Bills would raise highway weight limits for trucks carrying livestock, grain

The Brandt Dairy in Osage County is growing while the number of dairy farmers overall is declining. | Courtesy of Bell Johnson
A bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Munzlinger would increase the weight limits for trucks carrying livestock in Missouri highways. | Courtesy of Bell Johnson

Missouri’s General Assembly is considering legislation that would raise maximum weight limits on state highways for trucks carrying livestock.

The measures also would allow grain trucks to weigh up to 10 percent over the maximum weight on state highways during harvest seasons.

Senate Majority Caucus Whip Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, is the sponsor for Senate Bill 12. The bill, which includes multiple components focused on changing regulations on the dairy industry, would also give livestock transporters the same maximum weight limits as milk carriers.

Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown
Sen. Brian Munzlinger | Courtesy of

The maximum vehicle weight limit on Missouri highways is 80,000 pounds, except for milk transporters, who are allowed to carry up to 85,500 pounds. While the new bill would not modify the general weight limit, it would allow livestock transporters to carry the same weight as milk transporters and also raise the maximum weight limitations for grain carriers up to 88,000 pounds during times of harvest.

House Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, and Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, have both sponsored bills that would also raise maximum weight limits for livestock and grain transporters. Hoskins said his bill, House Bill 388, would “help farmers get their products to market” and would bring consistency to the law.

Livestock carriers are already exempt from the maximum weight limit on segments of highways in northwest Missouri, including U.S. Highways 63, 65 and 36, as well as a section of Missouri Route 17 in southern Missouri. His bill would set a consistent maximum weight limit on all state highways, Hoskins said.

Bordering states

Fixed weight limitations within Missouri that compare with border states’ laws help cattle transporters efficiently operate, said Mike Deering, the executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association.

The states that border Missouri have various maximum vehicle weight limits with different exemptions. Kansas allows vehicles to weigh up to 85,500 pounds. In Iowa, six- and seven-axle vehicles have a maximum weight of 90,000 and 96,000 pounds, respectively. Five-axle carriers can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, but the state allows those hauling livestock to weigh up to 86,000 pounds. The limit in Illinois is 80,000 pounds, but if the governor declares an emergency harvest situation, agriculture transporters are allowed to be up to 20 percent overweight.

Support and opposition

Deering said the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association supports the measure because it would also encourage safer cattle transporting practices, improving the welfare of the animals.

“More cattle in a truck means less room for them to move around,” Deering said, “which means less opportunity for them to get injured.”

The Missouri Department of Transportation opposes both versions of the bill, state bridge engineer Dennis Heckman said. While MoDOT recognizes the financial benefits of the bill to farmers and small businesses, Heckman said the agency believes heavier trucks would damage the state’s roads and bridges. He testified in opposition of House Bill 388 at an Agriculture Policy Committee hearing on Feb. 3.

The proposed measures come at a financially critical time for the Transportation Department. MoDOT is facing a shrinking construction budget and recently announced a plan to focus its limited resources on less than one quarter of the total 34,000-mile state highway system. The department’s construction budget is about $700 million in 2015 but is expected to drop to $325 million in 2017. The projected budget falls short of the $485 million the department said it needs to maintain statewide roads and bridges.

With the financial strain MoDOT is facing, Heckman said the department is opposed to legislation that causes costly damage to roads.

“The problem is that we invest so little in our roads and bridges that they’re not designed for the heavier trucks,” Heckman said. The damage heavier trucks cause to roads and bridges is hard to quantify, but rutting on roads and steel buckling on bridges can develop over time, he said.

Whether or not the weight exemptions in the bill will cause more damage to roads is “debatable,” Munzlinger said. The weight of individual trucks will increase by a maximum of 10 percent, but the overall number of trucks transporting agriculture materials will decrease, he said.

“If you can haul at a higher limit, you can have less trucks on the road,” Deering said.

Rep. Tommie Pierson, D-St.Louis, who is a member of the Agriculture Policy Committee, said he supports the measures but is uncertain whether less trucks on the roads would offset the damage done by heavier carriers.

“I’m sure it would do some (damage),” Pierson said. “Whether the good would outweigh the bad? I don’t really know. But I do know that supporting our farmers, I think, is a good thing.”

Bridge weight limits will take precedent over any weight exemptions in the bill, and the measures would not modify the 80,000-pound weight limit on the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Heckman said these regulations present route limitations of transporters.

“We have over 1,300 state bridges that have weight limits that these trucks couldn’t even cross,” Heckman said. “(And) no matter what we do with our state laws, these trucks cannot go on federal highways.”

Expanding the cattle industry

Munzlinger said the bill would be a step closer to expanding Missouri’s cattle industry — one of the goals Gov. Jay Nixon presented in his most recent State of the State address.

“Missouri ranks second in the nation in cow production. … (But) nearly all those animals leave Missouri before they’re full-grown and are finished and processed in other states,” Nixon said in the address. “We need to keep those cattle — and those dollars — right here in the Show-Me State.”

Munzlinger said this is one topic that he and the governor agree on.

“I’ve always been a fan of value-added; we can keep that raw agricultural product in the state and add value to it,” Munzlinger said. “Now I’m glad to see that we’re looking forward to the livestock industry.”

Munzlinger said he believes before a packaging plant can be built in Missouri, the state needs to increase its number of fed cattle. He said his bill would help accomplish this by making the transportation of cattle easier and more efficient. The weight limit increase would also provide incentive for companies to transport livestock into Missouri from other states, Hoskins said.

Rep. Ben Harris, D-Hillsboro, who is a member of the House Agriculture Policy Committee and supports higher weight limits for agricultural carriers, said the bill was “well received” at a public hearing held Feb. 3. Two weeks later, the Select Committee on Agriculture passed a substitute for the measure and recommended the House pass it.

Senate Bill 12 passed Jan. 29 and has been referred to the House Agriculture Policy Committee.

This article was re-published in its entirety with the permission of the Columbia Missourian.

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