The good news out of a Senate committee yesterday is that the state and trucking industry have worked out a deal that could save $26 million a year by making dump trucks less damaging to Maryland's roads.
The bad news is it won't be fully implemented for 20 years.
Every year, the state's 9,000 dump trucks cause an estimated $26 million in damages to state's roads and bridges. The Governor's Commission on Efficiency and Economy in Government -- better known as the Butta commission after its chairman, J. Henry Butta -- had recommended that the state charge dump truck operators a fee that would cover these costs.
But with the General Assembly in a mood to strictly limit all fee increases this session, it is more likely to follow the approach of Senate Bill 871, the result of a year's work by state transportation officials and trucking industry representatives.
The proposal received a favorable hearing yesterday before the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee, and with no opposition from the powerful trucking lobby, it is likely to face smooth sailing.
The bill would allow heavyweight dump trucks to weigh 70,000 pounds instead of 65,000, but they would have to have four axles instead of three to spread the weight over more wheels, reducing the damage to roads and bridges.
But, since a dump truck can be a $100,000 investment, all the three-axle trucks registered before June 1994 will be allowed to operate at the 65,000 pound limit for the next 20 years.
"These were, in our judgment, the most damaging vehicles on the state's highway system," Hal Kassoff, the State Highway Administrator, testified of dump trucks. "Maryland is among the least restrictive states in the United States."
A Department of Transportation proposal to reduce the three-axle weight limit to 55,000 pounds was shot down by industry opposition last year, but that move led to the committee that came up with the four-axle proposal.
Under the bill, when the current trucks are phased out, the three-axle weight limit will be 55,000 pounds.
Mr. Kassoff said specifications on how the four axles must be aligned on a truck will be worked out by a technical committee that will meet over the next year. The committee will include trucking industry representatives.