- From the governor who wanted to "Fix the damn roads"—Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer—comes a plan that could help fix the coronavirus crisis but break the roads.
- Michigan already allows heavier trucks on its roads than most states, but the weight restrictions will be lifted for the next month.
- The lifted restrictions apply to trucks carrying emergency supplies, food, and people who can help prevent the spread of and treat COVID-19.
As the worldwide social distancing movement to combat the COVID-19 virus pandemic continues, some unintended consequences are starting to make themselves known. To make sure that Michigan medical professionals and citizens have access to potentially life-saving suppliers, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has lifted road weight restrictions for trucks carrying essentials.
The items covered in the executive order include medical supplies and equipment meant to test, diagnose, and treat COVID-19, safety and sanitation equipment (including masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer), and food for "the emergency restocking of stores." The lifted weight restrictions also apply to people and supplies that can help with temporary housing as well as quarantine and isolation facilities.
That all sounds reasonable and good. In a time of crisis, why not let heavier trucks get vital items to the people who need them? But it's also more than a little ironic that the governor who ran on a campaign to "fix the damn roads" is now signing executive orders that might break the damn things. Only a year ago, Whitmer had said in an interview (see below) that she felt "bringing [truck] weight down is something that makes sense."
Michigan already had unusual truck-weight laws. They are based on maximum axle loadings, not gross vehicle weight (GVW) as they are in other states. Michigan's Department of Transportation has a GVW limit of 164,000 pounds, more than twice as much as the 80,000-pound limit that the federal law requires states allow on their highways. The state DoT has long said that its limit actually means fewer pounds per axle, which it claims does correspondingly less damage to roads. The DoT also says only a "relatively small" number of trucks operating on Michigan roads actually weigh more than 80,000 pounds (pre-coronavirua crisis, anyway).
"If pavements fail, it is because they have exceeded their designed life, or because funds were unavailable for necessary preservation actions to prevent damage from the interaction of traffic, freeze/thaw cycles, and water intrusion," the state DoT claims.
Experts interviewed by the Detroit Free Press last year, though, disagree. They pointed out that something called "dynamic loading" happens on bumpy roads (which we have aplenty in Michigan), where heavy trucks can start to bounce due to the uneven surfaces and then the entire weight and the pounds-per-axle work together to stress the pavement. The speed of the truck, how far the axles are apart and what kind of suspension system the truck has installed all play a role here as well, not just the overall weight.
Governor Whitmer lifted the limits March 16, and they will remain lifted until at least April 14, 2020. The governor declared Michigan to be in a state of emergency March 10. There are currently 65 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.