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Log contractors don’t want heavier loads in northern Idaho

Trucks would face overhaul to handle change, lobbyist says

Betsy Z. Russell
The Spokesman Review

BOISE – A 200-member association of the state's logging contractors has come out against allowing heavier-weight trucks on North Idaho's roads.

The idea is being explored by another timber industry group, which represents timber land and mill owners. The Idaho Forest Industry Association, in a presentation to lawmakers last week, said bigger loads are among efficiencies it's looking at to keep the timber industry viable in Idaho, possibly in combination with road improvements.

But Roger Sieber, lobbyist for the Associated Logging Contractors, said this week, "I don't think it fits our market and the timber industry market, particularly in North Idaho."

The region's roads can't handle larger trucks, he said. Plus, most log trucks would have to be reconfigured to handle heavier weights, and such an investment may not pay off -- in part because the heavy weights aren't allowed on major routes like the interstate highway system.

"When you look at the increased cost to the individual hauler, and the damage to our roads and bridges, it just doesn't add up," Sieber said. "I remain unconvinced that it's a good idea."

Last year, southern Idaho commodity interests pushed through HB 395, to allow a "pilot project" on certain southeastern Idaho routes, where trucks would be allowed to exceed the current weight limit of 105,500 pounds and go up to 129,000 pounds.

Another bill that passed the House called for a study of routes appropriate for a similar pilot project in North Idaho, from Grangeville north, but that measure died in the Senate.

Freshman Sen. Kent Bailey, R-Hayden, helped get HB 395 out of committee in the Senate last year in exchange for a promise from sponsors that they wouldn't try to push the issue up north.

"I don't support heavy trucks in North Idaho," Bailey said. "Now, if the trucking industry would like to rebuild all our roads and our bridges, then I may rethink it. I just don't think North Idaho is ready for this."

In a letter to Bailey last spring, lobbyists for seven groups wrote, "We unequivocally pledge to you that all of the organizations signing this letter will not seek to add any state pilot routes in northern Idaho at future sessions of the Legislature," adding that they'd seek no routes north of Fruitland, Idaho. That town is more than 175 miles south of Grangeville.

The organizations that signed were the Amalgamated Sugar Co., Idaho Hay Association, Associated General Contractors, Idaho Milk Producers Association, J.R. Simplot Co., Potato Growers of Idaho and the Idaho Trucking Association.

Bailey said the southern Idaho pilot project includes a three-year review of how the heavier trucks affect roads and bridges, and he wants to see the results before considering any expansions.

Sen. Marti Calabretta, D-Osburn, said, "There's no way we want those trucks on (U.S. Highway) 95, or any state highway in the north."

The routes are just too dangerous already, she said.

"My community does not want to see the pressure on the roads. We share the road with trucks, and we have to be wise about what we do," Calabretta said.