BOISE – (January 14, 2019) – In 2013, Senate Bill 1117 was signed into law, paving the way for 129,000 lb. (also known as 129K) trucks to roll down Idaho highways. The trucking industry hailed the move as a way to promote efficiency and improve safety, even as safety organizations like AAA Idaho voiced concerns that allowing heavier trucks on Idaho roads could lead to unintended public safety, infrastructure, and traffic congestion issues. Those concerns were based on the fact that many Idaho highways run through the center of towns and cities across the Gem State, and past schools and residential communities.
At the time, some proponents of the bill said that they couldn’t believe that big trucks would choose to go through the center of towns. Then the law passed.
Fast forward six years. On Wednesday, the Idaho Transportation Board will consider requests to allow 129K trucks to transport their heavy loads on sections of Idaho 55, Idaho 69, and Idaho 93. Most of us know these highways by their more common names: Eagle Road in Meridian, Avalon Street and North Meridian Road in Kuna and Meridian, and Pole Line Road in Twin Falls.
Anyone who regularly travels these routes should experience a sinking feeling. Eagle Road is already one of the most congested thoroughfares in the state, day or night. Where Avalon becomes North Meridian Road, the once-sleepy bedroom community of Kuna is experiencing tremendous growth, with rural land in the area rapidly converting into shopping centers and residential neighborhoods. And Pole Line Road is a very busy arterial in the Magic Valley.
To borrow the language from just six years ago, the unbelievable is about to happen. Trucking companies want to send 129,000 lb. trucks rumbling right through the middle of some of the fastest-growing cities in one of the nation’s fastest-growing states, sharing the road with vast numbers of passenger vehicles.
On Wednesday, engineers will present their findings to the board to help determine whether these requests can be approved. But the bigger question remains – should they?
Should pedestrians, bicyclists, students, and passenger vehicles along these routes find themselves in the path of unlimited numbers of large tractor-trailer combinations that are one-third the length of a football field? Should drivers on these busy roads experience additional congestion caused by heavy trucks that need more time to accelerate, more room to turn, and possibly more room to stop? How will 129K trucks perform in stop and go traffic? Who will pay for the additional road damage that they cause, and the delays that come with repairing those roads?
Idaho products need to be shipped efficiently – that much is certain. But what is the economic cost for the thousands of tradespeople and small business owners who will be harmed by greater traffic congestion on these major roads, and for the thousands of employees who depend on these roads to get to work each day? A local cabinetmaker or a landscaping company would probably feel that their ability to deliver goods and services in a timely manner is just as important as the interests of a few large trucking companies.
The needs of the many shouldn’t fade into the background to benefit a few. Idahoans deserve a better solution.
On behalf of the more than 120,000 members who travel the Gem State’s highways and byways every day, AAA Idaho urges the Idaho Transportation Board to deny the applications that would send 129K trucks down some of the busiest roads in our state. Economic gain should never take precedence over public safety. It’s time to draw the line.
Matthew Conde is the Public and Government Affairs Director for AAA Idaho.