MoDOT and some farmers concerned over agriculture hauling changes

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HARRISBURG - With all of the work and sweat that goes into being a farmer, one would think road deterioration would be that last thing on their minds.

"The biggest issue right now is all the weeds that need to be mowed in the road division. With all of the rain, they haven't gotten around to mowing. There are so many places where you have to stop to look to go on to another road," said Jean Price, a farmer in Harrisburg.

Price has owned her farm since 1969 and currently works with her son to keep up the farm. Price said there are always struggles and road upkeep can be one of them.

Some farmers and MoDOT are concerned over a new bill that went into effect Aug. 28. The act adds livestock to the current milk exemption for weight limitations on highways. This act also allows weight limitations to be exceeded by as much as 10 percent on highways for hauling grain and grain co-products during harvest.

MoDOT Project Manager DeAnne Rickabaugh said, "Agricultural loads often originate on a rural, two-lane road, and those are the roads most vulnerable to heavier weights."

Rickabaugh said these new changes to allow larger weights in agricultural roads will result in more rapid deterioration of what MoDOT considers "supplementary roads." These roads exclude main highways and interstates, and these supplementary roads include about 26,000 miles of roads for local travel. These often are where farmers in Missouri reside and rely upon to move their agricultural products.

Rickabaugh said with MoDOT's reduced budget from $700 million in 2014 to $325 million by 2017, MoDOT will be unable to focus on these supplementary roads. 

Price said with a laugh, "I'm not a complainer. I think they do a pretty good job."

However, with less money coming into MoDOT, it will have to focus on the primary highways and interstates, causing less attention to the less-traveled roads like the ones Price said are currently in decent condition. Rickabaugh said this will be problematic in the coming years.

However, the Missouri Corn Growers Association said it thinks the bill will not affect road deterioration.

Samantha Davis, Missouri Corn Growers public policy manager, said, "Going into this policy we did some research, and we will actually be reducing the number of grain trucks hauling on the road during harvest."

Davis said although the loads are heavier, they will not have a large impact on road deterioration.

"We actually had one of our corn grower come down and speak at the capitol when they were discussing this bill, and he did a little home-grown research. He weighed his truck, he measured the square inches that were impacting the ground, and he weighed his truck at the previous level and at the changed level with the new law. He discovered there's only one half per pound per square inch more in pressure."

Rickabaugh said these changes can still have a large impact on roads, especially in rural areas.

"These roads are already vulnerable since we can't hold the upkeep like we used to," Rickabaugh said.

Davis said, "The biggest takeaway is this bill helps Missouri farmers because they can be more efficient and plan for their harvest season better. It helps Missouri people on roadways during harvest because it is going to be reducing the number of semis that are on the road.

Rickabaugh and Davis stressed the importance of keeping trucks and tires up to the rating to carry the loads they will have to carry in order to make Missouri roads safer for farmers, haulers and every-day drivers.

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