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Idahoans could put brake on truck idea

AAA poll finds most oppose heavier trucks on state roads

Betsy Z. Russell
The Spokesman Review

BOISE – Most Idahoans oppose allowing extra-heavy trucks on the state's roads, according to a new poll by the American Automobile Association of Idaho.

"The public opposition is rather strong wherever you go," said Dave Carlson, director of public and government affairs for AAA Idaho.

The association included the truck issue in a telephone poll it conducted among 403 registered voters in 40 Idaho counties. The poll, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, found that 59 percent of respondents opposed allowing heavy trucks weighing up to 129,000 pounds on Idaho's roads, while just 28 percent favored the idea.

"We read it as a very strong mandate among the populace on this issue," Carlson said.

But Paul Sudmeier, president of the Idaho Trucking Association, disagreed. "The decision as to whether or not to allow more productive highway transportation is more of a complicated analysis," he said. "It took probably eight or nine years for many of the legislators to actually understand the issues. Some of the facets of the decision are in fact counter-intuitive."

Sudmeier maintains that by adding axles, extra-heavy trucks actually have a lighter footprint on roads. Last year, Idaho lawmakers approved a "pilot project" allowing trucks to exceed the 105,500-pound weight limit and go up to 129,000 pounds on certain southern Idaho routes.

The trucking association was among seven interest groups signing a pledge not to seek additional "pilot" routes in North Idaho, in exchange for getting the bill through a Senate committee. "We're keeping our word, we're not introducing anything," Sudmeier said.

But the Intermountain Forest Association has raised the issue, saying it could benefit North Idaho's timber industry. Another industry group, the Associated Logging Contractors, opposes the idea.

Michael Guest, state director of Alliance for Safe Highways, an anti-heavy truck group, said, "The people of Idaho have spoken and they're opposed to heavier, longer trucks. Those who know and understand the issue are vehemently against them, because they make our roads less safe."

Guest's nonprofit group has chapters across the country and gets part of its funding from the railroad industry. It also includes law enforcement, nursing groups, independent truckers and others.

Extra-heavy trucks are banned from the interstate system, under federal law.

But Sudmeier said Idaho shippers are at a disadvantage because they can't run the heavier trucks on more routes.

"We have seven jurisdictions on our borders, and five of them have lower trucking costs than we do," he said.

That includes Canada, which allows heavier truck weights. "Countries like Canada -- they're eating our lunch, transportation-wise," Sudmeier said.

North Idaho legislators have long opposed allowing extra-heavy trucks in the Panhandle because of the region's substandard roads. Last year, legislation calling for a study of suitable heavy-truck routes in North Idaho passed the House, but died in the Senate.

AAA is a motorists' club that has about 100,000 members in Idaho. The group has been active in the state since 1920, and helped push for a 1937 constitutional amendment requiring gasoline taxes to go directly to maintaining roads and highways -- rather than funding general government needs like education.

"First and foremost, we are an automobile organization representing motorists' interests," Carlson said.

AAA has opposed extra-heavy trucks both in Idaho and nationally. "It's generally pretty broad opposition based on safety and infrastructure costs," Carlson said.

Other causes AAA has supported in Idaho include the new graduated driver's licensing law.

Sudmeier said allowing heavier trucks could mean fewer trucks on the road. "It's beyond me how they can be serving their members by pursuing policy that promotes more trucks instead of fewer trucks," he said.