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State Allows Overweight Trucks, If Properly Equipped

Fri October 12, 2007 - National Edition

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) Although South Dakota allows trucks to exceed load limits on its interstate highways, a state official said those truckers must have special permits and meet certain equipment specifications.

It’s estimated that more than 500,000 overweight trucks are allowed on the nation’s roads and bridges, adding to the wear and tear that causes concrete to crumble and bridges to rumble. Experts say those heavy loads can weaken steel and concrete.

Investigators believe overweight trucks contributed to the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis in August, killing 13.

Highway Patrol Capt. Pat Fahey, head of the state Motor Carrier Division, said South Dakota routinely allows trucks weighing more than 40 tons (36 t), or 80,000 lbs. (36,200 kg), to travel on interstate highways.

The weight limit for nearly all interstate highways is 40 tons.

Fahey said heavier trucks are allowed in South Dakota if they have enough axles, properly spaced axles and large enough tires to adequately distribute their loads. Properly equipped trucks minimize wear and tear on roads, he said.

“In South Dakota, there really is no cap on the amount of weight you can carry as long as the vehicle can legally axle-and-bridge the weight out, based on the tire size and the number of axles and the spacings of the axles. That’s really the limiting factors,” Fahey said.

Those truckers can get 12-month permits for $60 that allow them to exceed 80,000 lbs., he said. He is unsure exactly how many of those permits are issued because the number constantly fluctuates but said it is in “the tens of thousands.”

South Dakota once required truckers to get permits for each load exceeding 80,000 lbs., but that became a bureaucratic nightmare because as many as 100,000 of the permits were issued each year, Fahey said. That prompted the state to begin issuing annual permits, he said.

Most states west of the Mississippi River allow more than 80,000 lbs. on properly equipped trucks, Fahey said.

Large trucks frequently pull two or three trailers on South Dakota’s interstate highways, he said. Most of those tandem rigs exceed 80,000 lbs., Fahey said.

“There’s literally hundreds of carriers that exceed 80,000 pounds regularly. It’s a very common thing,” he said.

The 1999 Legislature approved a crackdown on overweight trucks — those that carry more weight than their axles and tires can adequately support — as part of a boost in the state motor fuels tax. Former Gov. Bill Janklow said at the time that if the state raised taxes on motorists to adequately fund road construction and maintenance, it should not allow overweight vehicles to tear those roads apart.

Truckers who violate the rules face stiff civil penalties, ranging up to 75 cents for each pound a truck is overweight if the rig exceeds its limits by at least 10,000 lbs. Minor weight violations begin at a nickel a pound.

“We aggressively enforce the weights, trying to save the roads and keep them in the best shape possible,” Fahey said.

Truckers know South Dakota diligently enforces weight limits, and few trucks that are far over those limits are stopped anymore, he said.

“People know that we take overweights and preservation of our highways very seriously,” Fahey said.

In addition to civil penalties, criminal fines also may be levied on overweight trucks.

The double penalties were challenged by a Sioux Falls paving company in 2004, but the South Dakota Supreme Court said legislators who approved laws on overloaded trucks clearly intended to enhance the penalties.

Laws designed to protect South Dakota roads do not require authorities to prove if any damage took place as a condition of the civil penalties. Prosecutors must show only that trucks were overloaded.

South Dakota legislators are so adamant about enforcing overweight violations that they even have refused to give truckers a break if their loads shift and put too much weight on an axle.

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