A panel of experts testified about the damage overweight vehicles cause to Kentucky streets and current limitations local governments face enforcing laws designed to protect infrastructure. Tuesday’s Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government, Finance, Personnel, and Public Retirement heard from several witnesses, including KLC Director of Public Affairs Bryanna L. Carroll.
“For the past couple of years, we have discussed how cities face increased street and bridge usage, decreased funding, and growing costs. City streets are already on a 40-year replacement cycle because of the lack of funding, nearly three times the industry standard,” Carroll testified. “Overweight vehicles exacerbate the problem because city streets usually have fewer pavement layers than state and federal roads, which results in more significant damage. Heavy vehicle road damage further highlights a need to reevaluate how we fund our vital streets and bridges and how Kentucky distributes motor fuels revenue among local governments.”
Police departments are the only city agency authorities to enforce vehicle weight statutes. Penalties outlined in KRS 189.990 include a fine of $.02 per point for each pound of excess load, with the total being no less than $100 and no more than $500. Often the fine is levied on the driver and may not serve as a deterrent for violators.
A 2010 study by the website Governing.com found that a fully loaded truck weighing the interstate maximum of 80,000 pounds can cause more damage to a street than 5,000 cars. Some road planners say the toll is even higher – closer to 10,000 cars.
Increasing a truck’s weight to 90,000 pounds results in a 42 percent increase in road wear. Pavement designed to last 20 years wears out in seven.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) Assistant Director of the Department of Vehicle Regulation Mary Cook described a permitting process that requires carriers to map their route. The KYTC website provides some guidance for overweight and oversized loads to minimize damage. However, Cook testified that damage still takes place, and it is often difficult for the state to track down the responsible party. She said KRS 189.270 clearly explains who is at fault if damage occurs.
“I’d say over 90% of those (responsible for damage), from what we’ve experienced, is because the carrier is off route, or they didn’t have a permit to begin with,” she said. “So, this puts the responsibility back on the carrier to make sure they are doing their due diligence to checking the route prior to permitting something.”
A study this year by the University of Kentucky College of Engineering Kentucky Transportation Center analyzed truck weight limit regulations. It found that many exemptions to weight restrictions and limited law enforcement resources, which make Kentucky statutes and regulations related to truck weight limits difficult to interpret and enforce.
The General Assembly has approved exceptions for some agricultural products, minerals, or natural resources greater than 30,000 pounds but less than 80,000 pounds. While the many exceptions to truck weight limits can benefit commerce, the exposure of Kentucky’s roadways and bridges to additional weight shortens their lifespan and increases maintenance needs and costs.
Numerous exemptions and a lack of training and equipment for local police departments make city enforcement problematic. Major Nathan Day with Kentucky State Police (KSP) Commercial Vehicle Enforcement said staffing shortages create difficulties on the state level. Local agencies often call KSP to investigate complaints.
“While any peace officer may enforce weight and dimension laws, only KSP has the personnel trained, equipped, and charged with enforcing the weight and dimension laws as a primary duty,” Day explained. “Because of the special training and equipment required, for several decades weight and dimension enforcement has been the responsibility of KSP.”
He added that in 2020, KSP troopers issued 93.7 % of weight and dimension citations. In 2021, his agency accounted for 95.8 % of citations issued. However, Day said a significant decrease in available manpower resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of citations. Troopers wrote 4,204 citations in 2010 but only 1,758 in 2020.
Cities cannot pass an ordinance to restrict a vehicle’s height, width, length, and weight limits below those established in KRS 189.221 and 189.222.
A city with a population equal to or greater than 3,000 can establish by ordinance a weight limit above the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration maximums. However, the vehicle must remain within 15 miles of the city limits, and it cannot operate on state-maintained highways, connecting streets designated by the Transportation Cabinet, or county roads restricted by the judge-executive.
Some cities prohibit the operation of motor trucks, semitrailers, trailers, or vehicles that exceed 11 ½ feet from operating in the city and can do so if there is a route that goes around the city, for example, Edgewood. Other cities, including Florence, Morehead, and Southgate, prohibit trucks from operating on residential streets or specific streets named in the ordinance. More commonly, cities restrict the specific route to divert trucks from operating downtown. Danville, Hazard, Lawrenceburg, and Richmond have adopted that strategy to prevent damage.
Damage caused by heavy vehicles creates an additional financial expense for local governments already facing growing costs and reduced funding. Since 2009, Kentucky cities have spent 62% more on city streets while state and federal funding declined more than 4%.
KLC will work with legislators in the 2022 session to seek solutions to the issue. Additionally, the League encourages legislators to examine current exemptions, additional enforcement training, fees and penalties, and the use of bonds ‒ all possible tools for cities as they grapple with enforcement of the state’s overweight vehicle statute.
KLC also continues to advocate for increased revenue and modernization of the state’s road funding formulas to ensure cities have the funds needed to repair and maintain streets and bridges. The current funding formula for most of the shared revenue, known as the Formula of Fifths, is more than 70 years old and does not consider how much cities have grown since that time.