A study group convened by the Department of Transportation has submitted its final recommendations on the use of farm equipment on public roads to the Wisconsin Legislature for consideration – compromising on height and width limits but maintaining several new restrictions in other areas.
Rory Rhinesmith, who chaired the study committee and led the town hall meetings around the state, said lots of feedback - from town hall meetings and public input from surveys, emails and letters – was considered before the Implements of Husbandry (IoH) Study Group finalized its report.
Over 1,200 people attended the town hall meetings and over 150 individuals, associations and companies expressed their opinions and shared additional information regarding the study group's preliminary recommendations.
"It's important to remember these recommendations were drafted after listening to what people in the agricultural community had to say," said Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Ben Brancel.
Brancel added, "These options allow farmers to do their job while recognizing the need for public safety and the protection of our infrastructure. It's now up to the legislature to decide."
The final report was sent to the secretaries of the Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Those recommendations were also forwarded on Sept. 24 to the Legislature's transportation committees.
Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said the group's recommendations "balance the need for agricultural productivity with the prudent management of our highway system."
The group's final recommendations include what officials called a "clearer, simpler definition of implements of husbandry" - farm tractors, self-propelled and towed implements that are designed specifically for agricultural use off the roads.
The recommendations also include a definition for commercial motor vehicles (CMV) used exclusively for agricultural operations. This would include vehicles like manure hauling trucks. They would be designated as IoH CMVs.
The proposed recommendations would also require all IoH that cross over the centerline of the roadway during operation to meet the lighting and marking standards of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE S279).
The initial recommendations, which were rolled out at the town hall meetings, also included height and width limits for IoH, but those were removed after hearing from farmers and implement dealers. The recommendations still include a 10-foot width limit for IoH CMVs.
The proposal also creates a 60-foot length limit for a single implement and a 100-foot limit for combinations of two implements.
For combinations of three IoH the limit would be 70 feet. Under the recommendations a three-implement combination may operate at lengths exceeding 70 feet up to 100 feet, but must operate at speeds no greater than 20 miles per hour.
The proposal sets a maximum single axle weight of 23,000 pounds and a maximum gross vehicle weight of 92,000 pounds for IoH, except where posted and during periods of spring thaw. That weight limit is up 15 percent from the current one, which is established by the federal bridge formula.
Under the proposal, farmers would be required to get written authorization to exceed weight limits.
Each year, IoH operators would submit a travel or route plan and request written authorization to exceed the weight limit from the maintaining authority of the roadways – in most cases a township or a county.
A nominal fee could be charged and additional conditions may be set by each local government under these recommendations. At many of the town hall meetings, farmers objected to this provision, saying that many town boards don't include farmers who understand their work.
Implements of husbandry operating in excess of the 15-percent allowance could be fined for the amount in excess of standard gross motor vehicle weight or individual axle weight, under the proposal.
The package also proposes development of further training requirements for the operation of large IoH equipment. Age requirements are to remain as they are now allowed by state law, but the group recommends developing advanced training for operating larger and heavier IoH.
The group had proposed an age limit of 18 and possession of a driver's license to operate oversized farm equipment, but took that out in the final report.
During presentations at the town hall meetings and recently to the DATCP board at a meeting in Sheboygan, Rhinesmith said that the DOT and equipment manufacturers would like to see national standards on weight and size of IoH.
In its final report the study group is encouraging the development of such national standards by forwarding these issues to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO.)
The study group hopes this approach will foster additional research – and much is needed, says Rhinesmith - and encourage manufacturers to develop more road-compatible equipment.
The IoH Study Group started examining the size and weight of agricultural equipment and the potential impact it has on public roads and bridges in fall 2012 after many manure-hauling implement operators began getting traffic citations for being overweight in several parts of the state.
At that time the study group was brought together by the DOT and DATCP secretaries. It included representatives from various transportation and farm organizations, equipment manufacturers, law enforcement, local officials and the University of Wisconsin-Extension.