Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rural Texas roads taking a beating from heavy trucks

Heavy truck traffic, some of which is related to the energy industry, is taking its toll on rural Texas roads. "The number of super-heavy vehicle permits — granted by [Texas Department of Transportation] to trucks over 254,300 pounds — rose from 208 in fiscal year 2005 to 1,525 in fiscal year 2009, due to both increased economic activity and improved processes for identifying heavy loads," Kate Galbraith of The Texas Tribune reports. "In February, a record 1.7 million pound load moved through Texas, a generator bound for a coal plant in Riesel from the Port of Houston." (Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune)

Trucking companies and industries rarely shoulder the cost of fixing the roads, which can "run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single state road," Galbraith writes. Jodi Hodges, a public information officer in TxDOT's Fort Worth district, explained, "We've seen a lot of our roadways have base [problems], edges drop off, rutting, bridge hits, shoulder damage. Rural roads in Hodges' district have been particularly affected by trucks associated with natural gas drilling in the Barnett Shale. West Texas has seen heavy-load traffic increase as the wind industry flourishes in the region.

"Trucking advocates point out that even if they do not cover the costs of damage to state roads, they sometimes help pay for the upkeep of city and county roads," Galbraith writes. "In addition, the heaviest loads move on trucks with extra axles, to distribute the weight." John Esparza, president and chief executive of the Texas Motor Transportation Association, added, "It is not a question of damage being done to roads because of weight. It is about the dispersement of weight [and having] the proper vehicle." For now the traffic has slowed as the wind industry and gas industry face declines in the state, but Hodges notes if those industries rebound, traffic will increase with them. (Read more)

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