Leading up to Memorial Day weekend and a typical influx of traffic on Florida's roadways, Governor Charlie Crist received legislation late Friday which has the potential to make roads less safe for motorists. During the final hours of the 2010 legislative session, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 1271 which includes language that raises Florida's maximum allowable truck weights. If signed into law by Governor Crist, this bill would cause severe damage to Florida's roadways and cost local and state governments more than $150 million in taxpayer dollars per year to offset additional highway maintenance.
Local governments would see annual road maintenance spending increased by more than $66 million as a direct result of this legislation. The Florida Coalition for Safe Highways, a group of public safety advocates, law enforcement officials and first-responders, opposes this legislation and called today on Governor Crist to veto this dangerous bill.
"What it all boils down to is safety," said Steve Casey, Executive Director at the Florida Sheriffs Association. "The well-being of the hundreds of thousands of motorists who travel on Florida's roadways is being put at risk for the sake of special interests. The heavier the truck, the more difficult it is to control. There's a danger factor that all Floridians should be aware of as far as this legislation is concerned - the fact that they are being ignored is beyond distressing."
According to a fiscal impact analysis by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) ,increasing the legal load to 88,000 pounds would add millions of dollars to Florida's already extensive highway maintenance deficit. The passage of this bill would require local and state governments to spend approximately $150.7 million annually to compensate the infrastructure damage that would result from heavier trucks. This includes money for pavement resurfacing, bridge maintenance and additional bridge replacement. Lobbyists for powerful trucking companies inserted the weight increase language into the bill and if signed into law by Governor Crist, Florida taxpayers will ultimately subsidize operations of the heavier trucks.
Concurrently, more than $160 million is poised to be taken out of the State Transportation Trust Fund which allocates dollars Florida's major road projects. The Florida Coalition for Safe Highways believes this legislation would make matters even worse. The cuts to the Transportation Trust Fund will leave FDOT short of the crucial funds needed to maintain Florida's roadways, even without the threat of heavier trucks.
"Beyond the safety ramifications, Florida just doesn't have the transportation maintenance funds to make this legislation work," said Fraser Howe, PE, chairman of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) committee which published the 2008 Report Card on Florida's Infrastructure. "We've seen countless state and federal studies that show increased damage occurs to our roads and bridges as a result of higher volumes of heavy big rigs. While the Florida legislature passes legislation that would damage our highways, they are cutting the Department of Transportation's budget. The pieces just don't fit."
Safety concerns are another major issue for the public safety advocates and law enforcement groups that are also a part of the Florida Coalition for Highway Safety. According to the 2000 U.S. Department of Transportation Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study, the additional 8,000 pounds the legislature approved makes these heavier trucks more difficult to control and more likely to be involved in a serious accident.
"The dangers of increasing tractor-trailer truck weights are well known - they are harder to stop, steer and more vulnerable to roll over during a crash," said Tom Guilmet, the Executive Director of the Florida Safety Council. "But, by far, the most compelling objection to heavier trucks is the fact that they will cause more deaths and injuries on our highways."
The weight increase from 80,000 to 88,000 pounds brings threats to public safety, taxpayer dollars and certain transportation infrastructure damage. The Florida Coalition for Safe Highways is calling on Governor Charlie Crist to veto HB 1271 in order to save lives and taxpayer dollars.
The Florida Coalition for Safe Highways was established in 1995 and includes a multitude of organizations and individuals opposed to truck weight increases. Visit www.cabt.org for more information.