New Texas laws cover variety of truck issues
The Texas Legislature recently wrapped up their work for the year after approving some notable bills for the trucking industry.
Multiple bills signed into law – or expected to be signed soon – by Gov. Greg Abbott will ramp up truck enforcement efforts in certain areas around the state. Specifically, the door has been opened for local law enforcement to enforce commercial vehicle safety standards.
Currently, the Texas Department of Public Safety is solely responsible for enforcing overweight rules. Certain exceptions are made for select counties. Overweight fines range from $100 to $10,000, depending on how many pounds the truck is overweight.
A group of bills to expand the list of law enforcement agencies to enforce truck rules now are law. They take effect on Sept. 1.
One new law includes law enforcement officers in the city
Another new law permits certain police officers in the Permian Basin to become certified by the state to inspect trucks. In addition to greater enforcement efforts in West Texas, the rule includes a provision to include the South Texas locale of McMullen County.
A separate new law permits certain police officers in the city of Katy to enforce commercial vehicle standards for overweight trucks.
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, pointed out the change makes police officers in the Harris County locale eligible to apply for certification to enforce overweight truck rules.
She said during previous discussion on SB636 that trucks are using roadways in downtown Katy to avoid Interstate 10 congestion.
Advocates add that DPS officers do not have the resources to continually police downtown Katy.
One bill, HB511, still on the governor’s desk would authorize a sheriff or a deputy sheriff in Williamson County to apply for certification to enforce truck rules. The county is directly north of the city of Austin.
Gov. Abbott also signed into law a bill intended to reduce overpass and bridge strikes from over-height large trucks.
The rule specifies the owner of the vehicle would be strictly liable for any damage to a bridge or overpass caused by vehicle height. Drivers of the over-height vehicle could also be charged.
Violators would face misdemeanor charges. The charges could not exceed the cost of the damages.
“Like so many West Texans, I’m frustrated with how frequently overpasses in the Permian Basin are being struck,” Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, said in previous remarks. “These bridge strikes compromise highway safety, cause traffic congestion and cost taxpayers up to millions of dollars in repairs.”
Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, added that in 2018 there were 82 overpass strikes across Texas. He referred to figures from the Texas Department of Transportation that show damages alone topped $20 million.
Despite the high dollar amount, less than $3.6 million has been collected from the drivers and companies responsible.
The law takes effect Sept. 1.
Oversize and overweight vehicles
Another new law in effect Sept. 1 is intended to improve safety on roadways.
The state will be required to include information about oversize and overweight vehicles in the curriculum of driver education and driving safety courses.
Advocates say concerns have been raised that drivers are not adequately trained.
The law calls for including methods of safely operating a vehicle near an oversize and overweight vehicle. Information would also be included about safe following distances and passing methods.
Ports of entry
In addition to several new trucking laws, a pair of trucking bills passed the state legislature and were awaiting the governor’s signature as of press time. One bill covers wait times for loads at ports of entry.
House and Senate lawmakers have each voted in favor of a bill that addresses increased trade traffic along the Texas-Mexico border. HB2155 is touted to aid perishable loads crossing into South Texas.
If signed into law, the bill would reauthorize a grant program for nonprofits to reduce wait times for agricultural inspections at ports of entry along the Texas-Mexico border. A 2015 grant approved by the Texas Legislature provided $625,000 to help eliminate backups.
This year’s legislation calls for allowing local governments to help pay for overtime and/or increased agricultural inspectors at international bridges during peak times in hopes of shortening wait times. The total amount of grants awarded could not exceed $725,000 for the next two years.
The Texas Department of Agriculture would be responsible for monitoring and contracting the grant recipients to ensure compliance with state laws.
Due to staffing shortages at the state’s ports of entry, Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen, said trucks transporting fresh produce experience long wait times or do not make it through the inspection process. As a result, the shelf life is lowered, which hurts the bottom line for Texas importers.
If approved, the program would be implemented Sept. 1.
Interstate 27 extension
One bill to advance to the governor’s desk is intended to help improve the movements of goods and services from Mexico into the western United States, and ultimately into Canada.
HB1079 would require TxDOT to study the “feasibility of certain improvements” to extend Interstate 27.
Advocates say the extension of I-27 would make more economic sense and help relieve congestion more effectively than proposals to make improvements along I-35.
The bill calls for setting up a Ports-to-Plains advisory committee. The panel would be made up of citizens and officials that include ports, chambers of commerce, and the trucking industry.
Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said the extension project would help to alleviate congestion on I-35.
“It is a long distance from I-35 to any legitimate north-south corridor reaching up to Canada, or to Mexico. We are woefully in need of developing those north-south corridors,” Perry testified.
Multiple regional committees would comprise the Ports-to-Plains Advisory Committee. Each regional committee would study such issues as congestion relief and freight movement, as well as how to maximize the use of existing highways “to the greatest extent possible.”
TxDOT would be required to submit a report on study results to the governor and the Texas Legislature by Jan. 1, 2021.
Figures previously provided by TxDOT show the estimated cost for the I-27 extension would be about $7 billion.
“When you are trying to get commerce and get traffic moved off (I-35) it is a pretty good investment,” Perry said. LL