Legislation moving through the Senate would repeal old state regulations that traditionally have prevented farmers and truckers from hauling oversize loads on Sundays and some holidays.
“It was really a holdover from the old blue laws” that limited business activity on the Sabbath, said Kevin Lacy, the state Department of Transportation’s chief traffic engineer.
His office issues more than 170,000 permits a year for vehicles that are taller, wider, longer or heavier than standard sizes. They’re allowed to travel during daylight hours Monday through Saturday, except during some holiday weekends.
“Companies are 24-7 a lot of times these days, and they’re shipping their equipment for just-in-time delivery,” Lacy said. “As industry has changed over the years, this is one of the things that hasn’t changed because no one has asked us to do it.”
Senate Bill 513 would direct DOT to let oversize vehicles travel seven days a week, including the weekends around New Year’s Day, Labor Day and Memorial Day.
The legislation, also called the North Carolina Farm Act of 2015, is aimed at relaxing a range of regulations applied to farmers. It also would allow heavier dairy-product trucks and wider hay wagons on state roads, and faster speeds for vehicles called agricultural spreaders.
Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican, expressed qualms Wednesday about holiday traffic safety.
“Aren’t Labor Day and Memorial Day some of the most traveled days of the year?” Hise asked at a Senate Transportation Committee meeting.
The bill sponsor, Sen. Brent Jackson, said there was no need to worry.
“This piece of equipment that you’ve got permitted is safe to haul Monday through Saturday,” said Jackson, a Sampson County Republican and a farmer. “And there’s no more traffic on a holiday than there is on I-40 coming into Raleigh. And so if it’s safe on those days, why is it not safe on a holiday? Because actually on some of the holidays we’ve actually found that there is less traffic.”
Jackson’s bill would remove a requirement that drivers of wide farm machinery keep right of the center line if the equipment is wider than the travel lane and the highway shoulder. It also would require bright-colored markings for meteorological towers more than 50 feet high, to make them more easily visible to airplane pilots.
Lacy and a Highway Patrol spokesman expressed general approval for the highway safety changes.
“These holidays they’re looking at are primarily ones that have become normal business days for industry, anyway,” Lacy said. “The average person will not notice the difference.”
Lacy said DOT already is empowered to include Sunday travel in oversize-vehicle permits – but only if the hauler specifically requests it.
Other provisions in Jackson’s bill, not related to transportation, would relax some restrictions on wineries and on hog and poultry farmers’ waste-management operations. The regulation of farms that raise deer for game, meat or antler products would be shifted from the Wildlife Resources Commission to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The Senate Transportation Committee approved Jackson’s bill without dissent and sent it to the Senate Finance Committee.