Research by the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources shows that log hauling and trucking operations are inherently safer when able to use interstate highway routes as much as possible. The findings bolster support for the federal Safe Routes Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) and multiple other timber state representatives and the American loggers Council. Introduced into Congress last year, it would allow logging trucks that meet state-determined requirements to travel up to 150 miles on interstates.

According to Joe Conrad, assistant professor of forest operations at UGA, “The goal of the research was, if you made the weight limit the same on interstate and state highways, would it improve the efficiency of our timber transportation industry? The results were a resounding yes.”

Interstate highway weight limits, 80,000 total lbs. and no more than 34,000 lbs. per axle, are generally less than state limits. For example, in Georgia the weight limit on state and U.S. highways is 84,000 pounds total, including 48,300 pounds per two axles (including state weight tolerances). In Alabama the limit is 80,000 lbs. with a 10% tolerance so most loggers load for around 88,000 lbs.  As a result, log trucks are kept off interstates and must spend more time starting and stopping, going through red lights and intersections and encountering numerous additional safety concerns on state highways and county roads.

Conrad’s research compared log truck haul routes and how each might change if they were allowed on the interstate. His research found that, on average, nearly half of the trucks’ routes could be over the interstate instead of on local roads, which would significantly lower transportation costs. The project was supported by the Georgia Forestry Foundation Center for Forest Competitiveness and the Forest Resources Assn. and examined timber transportation in Macon, Brunswick, Augusta and Savannah, Ga. and also Brewton and Prattville, Ala.; Eastover, SC; and Roanoke Rapids, NC.

The research team counted intersections, school zones and other potential hazards between logging landings and mills. Conrad noted that in the eight areas studied, if log trucks were able to use interstates they would encounter 33% fewer traffic lights and at least one school zone per trip. Unloaded trucks are allowed on interstates, and research showed fewer than 5% of log truck accidents occurred there. Using interstates also shaved eight minutes off each trip, reducing fuel consumption in addition to increasing safety.