A record 58,514 oversize/overweight permits were issued in January, according to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. The previous one-month high was 57,139 permits in August. At the current pace, Texas could issue about 700,000 permits during the 2011-12 fiscal year that ends Aug. 31, a department spokesman said. Last year 590,980 oversize/overweight permits were issued to trucks – less than 1 percent of overall truck traffic in the state.Those permits generated $114 million for state coffers, to offset the cost of at least some wear and tear on the highways.
In August, Texas launched a Texas Permitting and Routing Optimization System (TxPROS) that allows haulers to secure permits around the clock. More than 60 percent of permits are now being issued by the self-serve, automated system, department spokesman Adam Shaivitz said. Permits may be on the rise because the new system is quick and easy for haulers to use, an official said -– and it gives them less motivation to cheat.
“There was a time when carriers might have waited several hours to get a permit, and for them time is money,” said Jean Beeman, manager of the department’s business services section. “If they felt they were waiting too long, they could possibly just go without it, and we would not know about it unless by happenstance they got stopped by police. Carriers can now go on at midnight and put in specifics for their load, get their permits right there and get their routes.”
In addition to raising revenue, permits aim to steer haulers around weight-restricted bridges, overpasses with a low clearance or other road features that could be damaged by an oversize or overweight load.
Permits are generally required for trucks carrying more than 80,000 pounds in Texas and many other states, although some members of Congress would like to increase that threshold to 97,000 pounds. About 200 companies have banded together to form the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, which argues that shipping heavier loads can be done safely while also helping companies save shipping costs, and also ultimately keep a lid on the cost of goods.
But critics of the proposal, known as the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act, say heavier trucks could speed up the already-fast rate at which the nation’s roads and bridges are crumbling.
In the Fort Worth area, 29 bridges had poor scores on their most recent inspections, a Star-Telegram review of the National Bridge Inventory earlier this year concluded. Nearly five years after a Minneapolis bridge collapse killed 13 people and injured 145, bridge conditions are arguably worse.