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Truck weight limits worry Wisconsin timber industry

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Bill Radke: We know state and local governments are in debt, and they don’t want to pay to fix their roads if they don’t have to. So in Wisconsin, hundreds of towns are putting limits or considering limits on how heavy a truck can be. One of the state’s major industries says that puts business in a rut, as Wisconsin Public Radio’s Brian Bull reports.

Brian Bull: At this truck stop in northern Wisconsin, several dozen semis prepare to head out on the open road. One of them is piled high with logs. It’s on its way to a processing mill, and it’s indicative of the state’s $26 billion timber industry. Logging companies are worried about the weight limit trend because a standard timber truck can weigh nearly 50 tons. That’s almost five times the weight restrictions already in place in some towns.

Others, like Boulder Junction near the Michigan border, are considering their own limits. Town Chairman Jeff Long says it already costs $60,000 to build a mile’s worth of standard residential road without the giant lumber semis rolling through.

Jeff Long: To do this to a heavier level that will sustain that type of weight would cost between $160-175,000 a mile. So in a small town like ours, with 1,000 residents that has 90 miles of town road, the difference in cost is very significant.

Long says taxpayers shouldn’t have to pick up the tab. Henry Schienenbeck is with the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association. He says the weight limits are a drag on a vital sector of the state’s economy.

Henry Schienenbeck: With that type of road posting you wouldn’t even be able to haul equipment in, to start a timber sale. And for every 10 jobs directly being done in the timber industry, that creates 23 additional jobs throughout different manufacturing, and that type of thing. So they say it’s gonna have a crippling effect.

Schienenbeck says to comply with the restrictions, each 49-ton logging semi will have to be replaced with three smaller trucks. That drives up fuel and staffing costs, and hurts Wisconsin’s independent contract truckers.

Several meetings have been scheduled this summer for all stakeholders to try for some common ground. One idea is to revert some paved roads back gravel, which can handle heavy trucks better. But that’s apt to be hard sell for many residents of rural Wisconsin who’ve gotten used paved roads.

In Madison, Wisc., I’m Brian Bull for Marketplace.

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