- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Farmers praised legislation that would end weight limits for trucks carrying livestock and grain, but state transportation officials warned members of a Senate agriculture panel Wednesday that the bill could damage roads at a time when money for repairs is strained.

The current law has no weight limits for trucks carrying milk. Under the bill, there’d be no weight limits on most Missouri roads for trucks transporting livestock, grain and grain co-products, though limits on interstates would remain.

Lawmakers and groups representing farmers, such as the Missouri Farm Bureau, said weight limits in place are lower than surrounding states and restrict transportation of perishable food. But Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Ed Hassinger told senators during the hearing that ending those weight limits could compound existing concerns with road upkeep.

A week ago, the Department of Transportation proposed fully maintaining only a quarter of Missouri’s highways as a way to deal with an impending budget shortfall. Hassinger warned that additional strain could mean bridge closures and further damage to road surfaces.

The weight limit measure is part of a larger piece of legislation sponsored by state Sen. Brian Munzlinger, who says it’s meant to promote agriculture in Missouri.

The Williamstown Republican said despite concerns raised by the transportation department, he intends to keep the changes to weight limits.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, has said the legislation is a priority, and he intends to pass the bill quickly.

A similar measure that included help for dairy farmers failed last session after lawmakers tacked on a provision to switch control of deer farming from the Department of Conservation to the Department of Agriculture.

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Follow Summer Ballentine at https://twitter.com/esballentine

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