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Coal trucks may block roads under proposed law

FRANKFORT — Several lawmakers from Kentucky's coalfields are pushing a bill that would give heavy coal and road-equipment trucks the legal right to block public roadways for up to 60 minutes as they unload cargo.

If the trucks need more time to unload, the bill would allow operators to buy a permit costing $500 to $1,000 to block roads up to four hours.

Truman Hurt, 68, a former underground coal miner who lives near Montgomery Creek in Perry County, called the proposal "a horrible idea."

"We had a problem last week when some coal trucks stopped on a public road, waiting in line to get to a tipple and unload their trucks," said Hurt. "People couldn't get in and out of the holler. We had to call the police to straighten the thing out. Imagine what would happen if trucks could stop that long all the time?"

The state Transportation Cabinet also expressed concerns Thursday about House Bill 409, saying "it raises questions about safety."

Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe said current law "has a careful and thorough permitting procedure for movement of overweight/overdimension loads."

If such trucks must block highways for a short time, "we require escorts and law enforcement for traffic control," he said, noting that the state picks "a non-peak time — middle of the night — whenever feasible" for unloadings on public roads.

The bill's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Ancel Smith of Leburn in Knott County, said his bill is needed "to mine coal and build roads."

He said it applies to trucks that carry heavy road equipment as well as coal trucks.

Smith said he got the idea for the bill when his "good friend," Dale Greer, president of DG Trucking and Equipment Sales in London, told him about an accident in Eastern Kentucky when one of Greer's trucks was unloading a loader on a public road and a driver ignored a company flagman and hit the truck.

If trucks are in such accidents when unloading their contents on public roads, "they get stuck with the cost because it's their fault," Smith said.

An employee at Greer's company said Thursday that Greer was working out of the office and not available for comment.

Smith, an excavation contractor, said he thinks his bill "won't be needed that often."

He also said trucks "probably will need just to take up one lane when they unload," but acknowledged "there may be times when they have to block both lanes."

Smith's bill has been sent to the House Transportation Committee.

He said he thinks it will fare well in committee because its chairman, Hubert Collins, a Democrat from Wittensville in Johnson County, is one of the bill's 12 co-sponsors.

Roy Crawford, a Whitesburg engineer, said stopping a truck on a highway is "extremely dangerous."

His 16-year-old son, Guy Crawford, was killed about 16 years ago when his car rear-ended a slow-moving coal truck with mud-covered tail lights on Garner Mountain in Letcher County.

Roy Crawford has been pushing ever since for stricter laws on coal trucks.

"Heavy coal trucks travel slowly," he said. "We don't want them stopping on public roads for long periods of time."

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