Heavy trucks debate: Lives vs. livelihoods

David Wickert, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Business News

One of the hottest debates in the Georgia General Assembly this year is not a culture war skirmish. It’s a proposal to allow trucks to carry heavier loads on Georgia highways.

House Bill 189 would allow some commercial vehicles to carry an extra 4,000 pounds — about the weight of a midsize SUV. It has pitted some of the state’s largest industries against traffic safety advocates, local governments and the Georgia Department of Transportation. And it has scrambled partisan loyalties, with supporters and critics from both parties.

Supporters say heavier trucks would allow businesses to ship their goods more efficiently, saving money amid high inflation and a shortage of truck drivers. They say allowing the heavier vehicles could make or break some businesses.

“Saving the money on not having to haul so many loads makes it so we can be very efficient and make money doing it,” said Tobey McDowell, who owns a logging company in Jackson.

Critics say heavier trucks will take a greater toll on Georgia roads, costing taxpayers billions of dollars more for paving and bridge replacement. And they say heavier trucks will be deadlier trucks at a time when traffic fatalities are already rising.

“If anything, elected leaders should be doing something to make trucks safer, not more dangerous,” said Steve Owings, a traffic safety advocate who lost his son in a truck collision.


Whatever lawmakers decide will have long-term implications. More trucks are coming to Georgia highways as the Port of Savannah expands, e-commerce takes off and the state’s population grows. State officials already are discussing ways to raise billions of dollars more for road and rail improvements to accommodate a 30% increase in freight by 2045.

Even as they consider the big picture, lawmakers will be pressed to tackle smaller issues that nonetheless could have a big impact on Georgia residents and businesses — issues such as the weight of individual trucks.

Heavier trucks would ‘definitely help’

Tobey McDowell followed his father and grandfather into the logging industry. He founded his own company in 2010. He buys timber, harvests it and transports it to regional mills. He employs five people “in the woods,” plus drivers for his eight trucks.


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