Bill would give farmers ‘cushion’ on weight limits

— A bill co-sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, would allow trucks carrying agriculture produce some leeway in load weight.

“The purpose of the bill is to allow field-loaded trucks a 2,000-pound cushion to the load limits,” Honeyford said. “These trucks generally are loaded without scales and then proceed on county roads or state highways to the local elevator, broker or packing facility.”

The bill has transportation officials a bit worried. Yakima County engineer Gary Ekstedt said it’s not good news.

“I understand where they’re coming from,” he said. “We don’t expect anybody to put a scale up in a vineyard where you are harvesting. I think the intent is good.”

But he’s worried some producers won’t think of the extra 2,000 pounds as a cushion, and instead take it as a new maximum weight, and overload trucks even further.

“It’s a slippery slope argument, and I hate to make it,” Ekstedt said. “But it’s a concern.”

The state Department of Transportation also is worried about the potential impact on roads. In a fiscal note to the bill, department officials estimate an additional cost of $15-25 million annually for road repairs if the bill passes.

Although the bill does not apply to load-restricted bridges, the department also argues that bridges without a posted limit will wear out an average of 10 years faster, resulting in another $32 million a year in costs for bridge replacement.

Ekstedt also pointed out that some of Yakima County’s roads aren’t adequate for current traffic.

“If you think about it, a lot of the agricultural roads in the county were laid out and developed when horses and carts were the norm,” he said. “In some cases they’ve been reconstructed. In some cases they’ve just grown. Could this law make it worse?”

Ekstedt said if farmers apply the law as intended, nothing will change.

“If it’s just a cushion, the only result will be fewer tickets for being slightly overloaded when leaving the fields after harvest,” he said. “I’m cautiously supportive of it, with an emphasis on caution.”

Honeyford said he believes this law is currently on the books in Idaho, and will help Washington producers.

“This should benefit farmers in that it is difficult to accurately estimate load weights when in the field,” he said.


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