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Law360 (May 20, 2020, 4:25 PM EDT) --
These waivers, combined with federal action by the FMCSA to temporarily provide exemptions from certain regulations, have been established in an effort to aid transportation. Recently passed legislation directs the Federal Highway Administration to clarify how states can issue special permits for overweight vehicles to provide safe transportation of critical relief supplies.
This article outlines how some states have approached weight requirements and permit requirements, and what trucking companies should do to adhere.
On March 14, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that as part of the state of disaster he had declared the previous day, oversize and overweight permitting requirements under certain sections of the Texas Transportation Code and the Texas Administrative Code have been suspended for all divisible and indivisible vehicles and loads, subject to federal law and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicle safety limitations.
All permitting requirements are also suspended, except vehicle escort requirements and restrictions on nighttime movement.
The suspensions only apply to vehicles and loads that exceed legal weight, width and length for which the DMV is authorized by Chapters 621 through 623 of the Texas Transportation Code as well as Title 43, Chapter 219 of the Texas Administrative Code, to issue a permit. The suspensions only apply when vehicles are traveling interstate.
The suspensions apply to the transportation of supplies, medical equipment and similar materials that are necessary for preparing for, responding to and mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Suspensions apply to both divisible and indivisible loads.
The suspensions do not apply to any requirement not specifically listed in the notice, including safety and insurance requirements. For example, commercial motor vehicles may not travel across load-posted bridges when exceeding the posted capacity for gross or axle weights, unless the bridge provides the only public access.
Additionally, operators moving vehicles and/or loads that are over legal dimension(s) without a permit must use the free Bid Route feature in the Texas Permitting and Routing Optimization System to obtain a route.
To benefit from the suspension, an operator of a commercial vehicle must keep the following documentation in the cab of the vehicle and provide the documentation to any Texas peace officer upon request:
- A copy of the notice;
- A copy of the governor's disaster declaration; and
- Any amendments to the declaration.
The Texas suspensions remain in effect until terminated by the office of the governor, or until the March 13 disaster declaration is lifted or expires.
On April 3, Pennsylvania issued a weight limit exemption for motor carriers using combination vehicles that are providing direct assistance in transporting selected goods and materials necessary to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Combination vehicles operating in accordance with the FMCSA's March 24 Expanded Emergency Declaration may haul divisible loads equal to or less than 90,000 pounds gross vehicle weight. This applies to both state and local roadways in Pennsylvania.
The weight limit exemption ends June 4. The exemption does not apply to certain bridge structures that cross the Delaware River between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The requirements for crossing those structures are established by the respective bridge authorities.
Illinois has the fourth-largest national highway system in the nation. Annually, truckers carry over half of Illinois freight tonnage, totaling 664 million tons of freight, valued at over $1 trillion.
On March 15, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an emergency declaration addressing overweight trucking permits. This order allowed the Illinois Department of Transportation to waive fees for overweight permits for transportation of emergency response and relief supplies.
The order did not authorize the operation of any vehicle combination at a maximum gross weight in excess of 88,000 lbs. Overweight permits limit excess weight to not more than 10% of the gross axle, gross axle combination or gross vehicle weight limitations.
Illinois Department of Transportation Acting Secretary Omer Osman issued an authorization for movement of loads in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for roads under jurisdiction of the State of Illinois.
The authorization, as defined in President Donald Trump's presidential disaster declaration for Illinois, provided that overweight and over-dimension loads for emergency response/relief not exceeding 14 feet in width and 100 feet in length were authorized to be transported on roads under the jurisdiction of the state of Illinois, with the following restrictions:
- A copy of the authorization, the presidential declaration and the bill of lading were required to be in the possession of the operator, and available for inspection upon request to any police officer or any authorized employee of the Department of Transportation.
- Undertaking the movement of goods was held to be evidence that both the owner and operator of the equipment agreed to abide by the conditions included in the authorization and all other nonexempted requirements for oversize/overweight loads.
- Haulers were authorized to carry up to 90,000 lbs. on 5 axles, or an additional 12% above legal loads on fewer axles.
- There was no fee associated with the authorization.
- Haulers were required to review "Obstructions and Restrictions" at gettingaroundillinois.com, and obey all structure postings and size/weight restrictions.
- Movements were authorized 24 hours per day, seven days per week, except during inclement weather, as defined by the National Weather Service, in the area.
This authorization was effective until May 15, and has not been extended.
What This Means for the Trucking Industry
While suspensions assist the nation in delivering and receiving necessary supplies, certain conditions require special attention by drivers and their employers. Some of these include, but are not limited to, the following.
Operators should understand the requirements of what paperwork must be kept in cabs, which is dependent on each jurisdiction in which the operator drives.
Operators are responsible for obtaining current restrictions (excluding curfews) prior to movement. Motor carriers that are subject to an out-of-service notice are not eligible for this relief.
Since some jurisdictions have allowed overweight suspensions to apply to both divisible and indivisible loads, in some states, this may mean an increase in traffic, which would increase the probability of accidents.
All permittees need to check local shelter-in-place/stay-at-home orders prior to movement, to ensure their travel meets the definition of "essential" for those areas.
Suspension of permitting requirements does not imply that a road, highway or bridge can safely accommodate the movement of an oversize/overweight vehicle and load. Operators remain responsible and liable for safely routing their vehicles, and obtaining current information concerning hazardous road conditions prior to movement.
Multiple states have lifted restrictions on truck weight limits to allow delivery vehicles involved in emergency relief efforts to accommodate more freight during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to Texas, Pennsylvania and Illinois, at least 10 other states had issued suspensions pertaining to these regulations as of March 20, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, Nebraska and Missouri.
Specific state weight restrictions and waiver of permit fees will improve the states' abilities to efficiently allow for transportation within the state during this time of crisis. However, these suspended restrictions apply to the operators of commercial motor vehicles traveling through a particular state.
Operators may face additional challenges when travelling across state lines. All commercial carriers and operators should be aware of the differences each state's measures, to ensure compliance with all regulations.
As this article demonstrates, trucking companies can expect to see federal and state governments working together to support the industry. Arizona took another step to aid long-distance truckers hauling freight during the COVID-19 pandemic when it recently announced that a nearly $4 million project will add a total of 38 additional parking spaces for big rigs in certain parts of the state.
These state waivers related to weight limits dovetail with the FMCSA's relaxation of certain hours-of-service regulations for motor carriers involved in COVID-19 relief efforts, and the FMCSA's recent release of guidance on compliance with drug and alcohol testing requirements. Thanks to the waiving and relaxation of certain regulations, the trucking industry continues to help ensure timely and efficient delivery of goods and services.
Tia Ghattas is a member and co-chair of the transportation and logistics industry group at Cozen O'Connor.
Josh Greenbaum is a member and co-chair of the real estate and construction industry group at the firm.
Kendall Hayden is a member, vice-chair and managing partner of Cozen O'Connor's Dallas office.
The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
 Suspension of Motor Carrier Vehicle Registration and Size and Weight Requirements of Motor Vehicles under Disaster Declaration Regarding Novel Coronavirus ("Notice").
 See Notice, supra n. 1 at ¶ 4.
 Divisible loads can be broken apart easily. Examples of divisible loads include topsoil, sand, grave, scrap metal, stone, fuel, logs or garbage. http://www.overweightpermits.com/wide-load-types/.
 Indivisible loads are loads take more than eight hours of work to disassemble. Examples of indivisible loads include construction equipment or tanks. http://www.overweightpermits.com/wide-load-types/.
 See Notice, supra n. 1 at ¶ 7.
 See Notice, supra n. 1 at ¶ 10.
 A copy of the disaster declaration can be printed here: https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/press/EO-GA_08_COVID-19_preparedness_and_mitigation_FINAL_03-19-2020_1.pdf.
 See Notice, supra n. 1.
 Order for Department of Transportation Permits to Assist with Response to COVID-19 Pandemic, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/emergency/illinois-order-idot-permits-march-2020.
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