During the 2021 legislative session, the Georgia Forestry Association (GFA) plans to present a proposal to the General Assembly that would allow them to increase the weight of log trucks, and other industries are looking to hitch a ride.
Trucks are ubiquitous in Georgia, home to the port of Savannah, the largest single container terminal in the United States and the largest port in the Southeast. Each day, thousands of tons of freight come through the port, where it is moved from container ships to 18-wheeler trucks. These trucks then travel from the Savannah area throughout the state. According to a 2019 report released by TRIP, a national transportation nonprofit, the amount of freight transported in Georgia was among the highest in the nation, and it was expected to increase at a higher rate due to advancements in e-commerce. And then we entered the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
The amount of truck traffic was trending upward even before the pandemic, and the problem has only worsened since. One side effect of physical distancing measures was that an already growing e-commerce industry skyrocketed. As many Georgians were forced to transition from shopping in brick-and-mortar stores to shopping on Amazon and other online retailers for gifts, clothes and necessary household items, the need for trucks to deliver these goods grew significantly. Increasingly, big trucks are coming off the interstate and on to state routes and roads maintained by local governments to make deliveries closer to customers’ homes.
All this truck traffic can and will cause damage to Georgia’s infrastructure and decrease road safety. Cornell Harvey, mayor of Brunswick, a city an hour south on Interstate 95 from the Port of Savannah and the host of the Port of Brunswick, is no stranger to heavy truck traffic.
“Oversized trucks are always a concern in urbanized areas where pedestrian and bicycle traffic are encouraged,” said Harvey, who also serves as GMA’s Transportation Policy Committee Chair. “The likelihood of traffic accidents is heightened, and more severe injuries are more likely when accidents occur,” Harvey said, “[and physics dictates] the heavier the truck the more time and distance it takes to stop.”
One of the most important safeguards against this damage are the truck weight limits imposed by Georgia law which intend to mitigate the adverse effects of heavy trucks on roads, bridges and road safety. Both truck traffic and truck weights were affected by the pandemic. When Gov. Kemp issued the executive order instituting a statewide shelter in place, he considered forestry workers to be essential. Agriculture is one of Georgia’s major industries, and not wanting the wheels of commerce to stop, the order allowed the hauling of forestry products to continue. When extending the emergency order, the governor allowed log trucks and other commercial vehicles to apply for a permit to increase their weight up to 95,000 pounds — an 11,000-pound increase from the state maximum of 84,000 pounds.
After receiving—and subsequently losing — the ability to increase the weight of their trucks due to the pandemic, GFA will again ask for the ability to have an increase. The association intends to push the legislature to increase the weight of log trucks to 100,000 pounds, provided they add an axle to the truck. According to documents released by GFA, 100,000 pounds carried on 6-axle trucks instead of 84,000 pounds carried on 5-axle trucks will lead to fewer trucks on the road because fewer trucks will be able to carry more forestry products.
“Although truck traffic is limited on certain city streets,” Harvey pointed out, “the streets where it is allowed shows significantly more deterioration.”
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2021 edition of Georgia’s Cities magazine.