Panel OKs longer trucks to travel most state roads

Tractor-trailers as long as 53 feet, now restricted to major highways in North Carolina, would be free to travel most state roads under legislation that will go to the floor of the state Senate next week.

The Senate Finance Committee approved far-reaching measures Thursday to relax safety limits on the length of trucks and to allow wider boats and heavier log and cotton trucks on state roads.

The state Highway Patrol warned that longer trucks pose hazards for other drivers, especially on tortuous mountain roads. Sen. Clark Jenkins of Edgecombe County, who sponsored the bill, agreed that some mountain roads should be off-limits but said the safety concerns were overstated.

“I don't think the Highway Patrol has necessarily given a clear picture of everything,” Jenkins said in an interview. He told committee members that North Carolina should join other states in allowing freer movement of the longer trucks.

The length limit now for tractor-trailers on most roads is 48 feet. The state allows 53-foot trailers on 5,600 miles of interstates and other major highways and on connecting roads for three miles in each direction. The Senate plan would expand the range of 53-footers to include all primary routes – more than 20,000 miles of roads marked as interstate, U.S. or N.C. highways.

An N.C. State University transportation research director said legislators were moving too quickly. Ron Hughes of NCSU's Institute for Transportation Research and Education cited a study of long trucks on winding mountain roads conducted last spring by NCSU, the Department of Transportation and the Highway Patrol.

“It would be clear to anyone who saw this that a truck that large is certainly too big for the road,” he said in an interview.

Jenkins said DOT engineers would be free to recommend certain roads as unsafe for the long trucks. But his bill would empower a legislative oversight committee – of which Jenkins is co-chairman – to make the decision.

The measure would free recreational boaters to haul boat trailers as wide as 10 feet, day or night, as they drive to and from North Carolina lakes and beaches. Fishermen and other boaters pushed for the change after the Highway Patrol stepped up enforcement of the current law, which puts limits on boats more than 8.5 feet wide.