After truck protest, candidates voice support for loggers

When more than 60 logging trucks loaded down with freshly hewn timber rumbled down the old brick streets of downtown Duluth Thursday morning, political candidates saw a constituency.

The truckers backed up traffic on London Road coming into town, trying to raise awareness about their fight to change a federal law that caps truck weights on interstate highways in Minnesota.

Here’s the issue: Since 1982, federal law has limited truck weight to 80,000 pounds on interstate highways. But Minnesota allows loggers to carry 90,000 pounds on state, county and local roads. State Department of Transportation officials say the extra weight doesn’t contribute to extra wear and tear on the roads because it’s spread out over six axles rather than five

Loggers say the federal restriction hurts their bottom line. Opponents claim heavier trucks on freeways cause more accidents and fatalities.

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U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack talks to Peter Wood of Wood Forest Products during a rally by loggers Thursday, September 27, 2012 at Road Machinery and Supplies Co. near downtown Duluth, Minn. during a protest by loggers over federal weight restrictions on the interstate highway system. (Derek Montgomery for MPR)

U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, a Republican who represents the 8th District, rode shotgun in a rig through the protest, and addressed loggers at a rally after the convoy rolled through Duluth. Cravaack pointed out that truckers in nearby states, including North Dakota and Michigan, can haul heavier loads on interstates. Those weights were grandfathered in to federal law.

“This makes no sense and makes Minnesota less competitive,” Cravaack argued.

Cravaack negotiated a bipartisan amendment to the 2012 transportation bill to allow heavier logging trucks on a 75 mile stretch of Interstate 35 between Duluth and Hinckley. But a Senate conference committee stripped that provision from the bill.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar did not attend the event. But she sent a letter in which she said she encouraged that conference committee to include the provision. Klobuchar wrote that an increase in truck weights is “the right decision for safety, and it’s the right decision for our economy.”

Meanwhile, Cravaack’s Democratic opponent in the closely watched 8th District race, former U.S. Rep.Rick Nolan, issued a press release blasting Cravaack for twice voting for a Republican budget that would have cut between $40 and $50 billion from transportation funding, according to The New York Times.

“Cravaack may support expanding highway use for loggers,” the Nolan press release reads, “but his record shows he doesn’t support the funding needed to maintain our roads and infrastructure.”

Nolan did not attend the rally. His press release did not say whether he supports increasing weight limits for loggers on interstate highways in Minnesota.

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