New Jersey DOT sets new rules for big rigs

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A month after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider New Jersey’s bid to keep large trucks off local roads, the Transportation Department proposed new routing rules it hopes will pass legal muster.

The proposed rules, released Friday, Nov. 17, would require 102-inch-wide trucks and double-trailers to use major highways unless the driver is seeking food, gas, rest or repairs, or is headed to a delivery terminal by direct route. The rules establish a hierarchy of roadways that large trucks would be required to use, starting with interstates, then state highways and county roads, and lastly, local roads. The idea is to keep big rigs off secondary and local roads whenever possible.

“The rules balance the need to protect the safety of the traveling public and the need to provide the trucking industry with an efficient and economical roadway network,” Transportation Commissioner Kris Kolluri said in a statement. The proposal is scheduled to be published next month, and a 60-day public comment period will ensue.

New Jersey League of Municipalities Executive Director Bill Dressel said the proposed rules force big rigs to use the most direct route to their destination when making local deliveries and give local police the right to pull over drivers for probable cause. “The regulations try to strike a compromise in providing local municipalities with some enforcement authority,” Dressel said.

The state first barred big trucks from local roads in 1999, but the American Trucking Associations and U.S. Xpress argued the ban discriminated against interstate commerce. Last year, a federal appeals court agreed with ATA and U.S. Xpress; a federal judge in Newark had come to the same conclusion in 2004, but lifting the ban was delayed while the state appealed. On Oct. 2, without giving a reason, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the case.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s administration announced its disappointment at the time, but Transportation Commissioner Kris Kolluri said they had been prepared for such an outcome. Kolluri said the administration hoped to within 45 days unveil a new truck rule that would pass court muster, but at the time wouldn’t detail what the rule would dictate.