On Feb. 4, the Kentucky Senate passed a bill that would allow heavier semi-trailer trucks hauling poultry, livestock and agricultural products to travel on all state and local roads, raising the maximum weight from 80,000 pounds to 88,000 pounds.
The bill now heads to the Kentucky House, where supporters are making an all-out effort to pass the legislation.
While trucks play a critical role in the economy, adding up to 8,000 pounds to each of these trucks would have a substantial, negative impact on our roads and bridges, our state and local budgets and, most importantly, our safety.
Senate Bill 44 uses language that sounds rather harmless, referring to the 8,000 extra pounds as a "10 percent variance" in truck weight, but let me assure you: these heavier trucks would endanger Kentuckians, period. That is my most pressing concern and why I am speaking out.
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As president of the Kentucky Ambulance Providers Association, I know the impact of big rigs on Kentucky motorists firsthand. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 2,541 large-truck crashes in Kentucky in 2012 and, regrettably, 82 fatalities.
Emergency responders arrive immediately after these big-truck tragedies, witness their aftermath and aid victims in their time of need. We act quickly, but the thought of adding up to four tons to each of these trucks does not make sense.
In the very recent past, one of my ambulances was struck by a semitrailer truck that was unable to stop at the scene of a crash on the interstate. I also know of at least one paramedic who was struck and killed by one of these large trucks while working a crash on the roadway.
Even the law enforcement community agrees. More than 95 percent of law enforcement officers said in a recent analysis that adding more weight to semitrailer trucks makes them more dangerous. Like EMS personnel, these aren't corporations with an economic interest in the outcome of this bill — these are the men and women who keep us safe, protect us and are looking out for the best interests of each of us, their Kentucky neighbors.
But that's just the start: let's look at the larger picture. The 2014 state budget shortfall is projected to be nearly a half-billion dollars. Here's another way to see it: that's a half-billion dollars we don't have to repair the roads and bridges already damaged. At the end of 2012, there were 4,463 structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges in Kentucky, representing nearly one-third of all bridges, which is well above the national average.
Not only are these a concern — one of my colleagues might need to respond to the consequences of a bridge failure — but the proponents of heavier trucks are putting these bridges to the test with more weight, more stress and more chances for collapse. As a paramedic and a taxpayer, the fallout just isn't worth it.
Loading more tonnage onto trucks wears out pavement quicker, too — and then, adding the fact that heavy trucks already don't pay their share in highway taxes makes this situation more problematic. The 80,000-pound trucks on our roads today pay for only about 80 percent of the damage they exact on our infrastructure.
I represent EMS personnel, but it doesn't take a team of economists to figure out an additional four tons will do more harm to our roads without repaying their damage.
Allowing 44-ton trucks on our underfunded roads and bridges just so some business interests can haul their loads at cheaper rates sounds an awful lot like a subsidy paid for by Kentucky taxpayers — at the expense of our safety.
We need to let Kentucky House legislators know there is more at stake than transporting extra poultry, livestock and agricultural products. We can't afford to compromise the safety of Kentuckians, much less our hard-earned tax dollars.