Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

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This news story originally provided by the Lexington Herald-Leader

7/10/04

Load of scandal

State shouldn't let up on overweight coal trucks

Kentuckians love their scandals. We talk for years about the ones involving sex and simple graft.

But some of the biggest ones are virtually ignored; they are as taken for granted as the sun. In that category is the scandal of overweight coal trucks destroying roads and endangering the public.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration has brought this scandal into the public discussion simply by enforcing the law.

We urge the administration to continue enforcement, even though the pressure to do otherwise will be fierce from an industry that always has lots of money to bankroll politicians.

For too long, taxpayers have subsidized the coal industry by maintaining and rebuilding roads damaged by trucks that violate the legal weight limit.

As staff writer Lee Mueller reports, coal trucks in Eastern Kentucky routinely haul 200,000 pounds, well over Kentucky's limit of 126,000 pounds, which is 46,000 pounds more than the federal government allows.

Past administrations and the legislature have consistently aided and abetted this lawlessness.

Why else wouldn't there be one single weigh station on the nation's busiest coal-haul road, U.S. 23 in Eastern Kentucky?

Studies show 1,880 coal trucks a day travel the 115-mile four-lane between the Virginia border and Big Sandy docks in Boyd County. Not surprisingly, U.S. 23 requires resurfacing three times more often than other highways.

During the first six years of Gov. Paul Patton's administration, the state paid road contractor Leonard Lawson's Mountain Enterprises $120 million to resurface U.S. 23.

This cushy deal for the coal industry and highway contractors (who also are big political givers) is a terrible abuse of taxpayers.

Enforcing the weight law is such a novelty in Eastern Kentucky that when state Motor Vehicle Enforcement officers started ticketing overweight coal trucks, the drivers parked their vehicles and raised the empty beds in protest.

What the drivers want (besides the disappearance of the vehicle enforcement officers) is a change in state law that would make coal shippers, not haulers, responsible for paying fines for weight violations, which is how it works in Virginia and West Virginia. That strikes us as a reasonable and responsible change.

Meanwhile, the limits should be enforced, which also will require judges in Eastern Kentucky to risk the wrath of coal interests by enforcing the law.

The absurdly overweight coal trucks that are a fixture on Eastern Kentucky roads are not just an unnecessary drain on road construction funds and taxpayers, they are a dire safety hazard.

If the people responsible for enforcing the law will just do their jobs, almost everyone who uses Eastern Kentucky's roads will be grateful.

 

 

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