- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) | A study concludes that big trucks take a large bite out of Virginia’s highway maintenance budget.

Heavy loads hauled by trucks were responsible for $211.4 million in damage to state roads last year, while companies paid only $2.7 million in fees for permits to operate in excess of vehicle weight limits.

Truck-related road damage represents nearly one-fourth of the state’s annual highway maintenance bill.

The findings were contained in a study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council at the University of Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has proposed charging overweight trucks $100 for a single-trip permit and $250 for a yearlong, multitrip permit. Raising the fee will require changing state law.

Dale Bennett, executive president of the Virginia Trucking Association, said now is not the time to be raising taxes as companies struggle “to keep the doors open and keep people employed.”

The study “is based on a lot of assumptions,” he said.

A heavily loaded tractor-trailer produces 8,000 to 9,000 times as much damage to highways and bridges as a passenger car, according to Gary Allen, VDOT’s research chief.

“Weight matters,” he said.

Vehicles traveling on Virginia highways are limited to 20,000 pounds on a single axle or 34,000 pounds on a tandem axle; a truck’s total weight can’t be more than 80,000 pounds.

But vehicle owners can buy overload permits from the state to run up to 5 percent over the normal weight limit. During fiscal 2008, the state issued more than 93,000 overweight load permits.

Wear and tear on Virginia’s bridges last year was traced primarily to the 30,000 permitted vehicles that weighed more than the loads for which bridges are designed, Mr. Allen said.

VDOT estimates that a tractor-trailer weighing 116,000 pounds traveling the 325 miles of Interstate 81 in Virginia and crossing its 58 bridges should pay $142.67 for the single trip, he said.

In another example, Mr. Allen said a 100,000 pound tractor-trailer traveling 50,000 miles in a year should pay $2,403 for an annual “blanket” permit.

The legislature has exempted certain commercial vehicles from overweight permit fees entirely. With some conditions, coal-hauling trucks get permits without charge, as do trucks hauling gravel, sand, crushed stone and liquids produced by gas and oil wells.

Trucks hauling sealed, seagoing cargo containers bound to or from a seaport get free permits. Last year, 1.2 million containers moved through the marine terminals in Hampton Roads, according to Joe Harris with the Virginia Port Authority.

Last year, the Department of Motor Vehicles issued more than 11,000 free permits.

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