Minnesota's changes and trucking quirks

FARGO, N.D. -- The Minnesota Legislature tweaked several areas of trucking regulations, which have effects both on Minnesotans and neighboring states where they have business connections.

FARGO, N.D. -- The Minnesota Legislature tweaked several areas of trucking regulations, which have effects both on Minnesotans and neighboring states where they have business connections.

Greg Hayes, who has works with Minnesota truck education the Minnesota College and Educational System, under contract with Northland Community and Technical College, based in Thief River Falls, offers these observations about Minnesota's changes and idiosyncrasies:

All so seamless

Besides changing the weight laws for agricultural and forestry trucks in Minnesota, the Legislature also changed the weight laws for more seamless transportation between state and county roads.

"They said that unless a sign is on it, a tarred road will have the same weights across the state," Hayes says. "That helps. What this says is that unless there's a sign that says lesser weight, they're going to have it seamless 10-ton route system." If they don't sign it, it's a 10-ton per axle route. There is a maximum load of 80,000 pounds -- only if the truck is properly configured.


How 'raw' is 'raw'?

The new agricultural truck weight permits are available for "raw and unfinished" agricultural products.

(There's a forestry permit, but that's another story. Only agriculture and forestry pushed for the bill because of where their cargo is moved. Over-the-road trucking industry was neutral on the bill because their cargoes go interstate, where rules can be more restrictive.)

There are unresolved questions.

"The first question is from a fellow in the sugar beet industry," Hayes says. "The guy asks, 'Okay, I haul beet pulp from the factory to my cows. Is that a finished or unfinished product?' There's calls like that they're going to have to make."

Distiller's grains and oat husks are other issues, as well as potato peelings and cattle.

Kleven says livestock producers in southwest Minnesota run into similar restrictions when they try to get loads in and out of Sioux Falls, S.D.

"We're going to advocate for a wide application within agriculture. Livestock feed would be allowed, as well as live animals, but boxed beef would probably not."


Hayes is waiting for those answers from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

New canola rule

Besides the new rules for agricultural deliveries in general, there is also a special law going into effect Aug. 1 that allows trucks to deliver canola only in up-to-105,500-pound rigs, headed for the new Northstar Bioenergy L.L.C. plant in Hallock, Minn. The $165 million plant started construction last fall, but nothing is moving forward now. This canola permit would cost $850 per truck and can allow two trailer units -- a "B-train" unit, which is the three-axle tractor, then a three-axle "dolly" between the two trailers, and the rear full-size trailer with its two axles.

The rights come for designated routes.

"There again, they're finally breaking down the wall that seems to have grown over the Red River and making Minnesota more cost-effective," Hayes says.

Some agricultural development specialists think this has been one of the issues affecting the siting of processing plants just across the borders to the Dakotas.

The routes will be on U.S. Highway 175 from Hallock to the North Dakota border, and on U.S. Highway 75 from Hallock to Donaldson, Minn., and then on Minnesota Highway 11 from Donaldson to the North Dakota border.

"We haven't been approached to issue special county permits," says Kelly Bengston, Kittson County highway engineer. "Our limits on county blacktops is generally 73,280 pounds on five axles. That's what our roads are designed for."


Relevant evidence

Minnesota has an enforcement tool that surrounding states don't -- the "relevant evidence law." Authorities have the right to go into an elevator or other destination and see what's been shipped and received. Based on weight or liquid volumes records, if a truck's weights are exceeded, a civil penalty can be levied against the shipper or the carrier.

The state is becoming more sophisticated about enforcement, too, because of "weight-in-motion" scales, embedded in highways. The scales are not themselves an enforcement tool, but in recent years, have become highly accurate. The Department of Transportation uses the scales to profile truck numbers and truck weights could, if needed, allow law enforcement efforts to concentrate in those areas.

Weight not only difference

The same kind of grandfathered-in rules that have allowed heavier weights in North Dakota and South Dakota than in Minnesota also allow rules for larger, double-bottom trailer configurations in those states, while they aren't legal in Minnesota.

Among other things, that means shippers coming off of Interstate 29 with two-trailer loads to elevators in Breckenridge, Minn., for example, had to stop in Wahpeton, N.D., and break down the trailers so they could deliver them across the Red River.

The longer loads are sometimes considered a safety issue, but Hayes isn't aware of data that show higher crash rates for longer vehicles.

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