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Editorial: Longer trucks? Not so fast

You have to wonder why the N.C. Legislature is in such a rush to relax restrictions that keep longer tractor-trailers off some of the state’s twistier and riskier roads when so many caution flags are being raised.
The state Highway Patrol has warned that opening up more roads to 53-foot trailers would pose additional hazards for other drivers, especially on snaky blacktops in the western part of the state. In addition, the director of N.C. State University’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education has warned that legislators are moving too quickly on a change that needs more study. Besides being more cumbersome on curves and turns, the longer trucks would increase wear and tear on secondary roads ó many of which are already suffering from delayed maintenance. Given the state’s ongoing battle against potholes and crumbling road edges, this is hardly the time to invite more pavement attrition with bigger, heavier trucks.
Yet the bill that would increase the length limit from the current 48 feet on most roads is speeding along. It was approved 47-0 in the Senate and is currently under consideration in the House Transportation Committee, where it may come up for a vote today.
Trucking interests and legislative supporters contend the bill is necessary because the transportation industry has moved toward a 53-foot standard length for trailers. They say North Carolina’s failure to move toward the longer measure is inhibiting commerce and creating hardships for truckers who are already contending with higher fuel prices and thinner profit margins. However, it’s not as if the longer trucks are currently banned from N.C. roads. The state allows 53-foot trailers on almost 6,000 miles of interstates and most major highways, as well as on connecting roads for up to three miles. The proposed legislation would expand that range to include all primary routes, which would add 20,000 miles of roads currently off limits. That would include narrow, slower-moving roads in some of the most scenic ó and tourist-intensive ó parts of North Carolina.
As currently written, the bill would allow DOT engineers to selectively recommend that the long trucks be barred from particular roads. Yet, while that might help alleviate some concerns, the engineers wouldn’t have the final say. That would be up to a legislative oversight committee.
So who are you more comfortable with being the final arbiter of safety on our roads? Law enforcement officers and highway engineers who deal with these issues every day ó or legislators who spend most of their time navigating the corridors of power in Raleigh?
Clearly, this bill needs more work. It may be possible to open up more roads to longer trailers without unduly jeopardizing other motorists, but too many questions exist about the bill in its current form. Members of the House need to slow down their deliberations on longer trailers, pay more attention to the concerns that have been raised and put motorists’ safety ahead of economic considerations.

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