'Implements of Husbandry' study group has recommendations for size, weight restrictions
Well over 100 farmers, custom operators, manure haulers, local elected officials and equipment dealers crammed a meeting room in Madison Monday evening (Aug. 19) to hear about proposed changes to state highway regulations on the size and weight of farm implements.
Adding to the size of the crowd was a busload of farmers, organized by Ballweg Implement in Waupun.
Nancy Kavazanjian of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association said she had reminded her members about the meeting in an email because it's a critically important issue for farmers.
Rory Rhinesmith of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) chaired a study group that looked at the growing problem of farmers getting ticketed for overweight or oversized vehicles.
That study group, which included farmers and farm organizations, custom manure applicators, Wisconsin Farm Bureau, Dairy Business Association, educators and equipment manufacturers, along with legislators and the Wisconsin Towns Association and DOT, "tried to strike a balance," he said.
"We know there's a problem, with farmers getting citations. We tried to balance the needs of the farming community with the trillion-dollar investment we have in roads and bridges."
The first of three "town hall" style meetings was designed to get comments from farmers, town officials and from equipment dealers - several of whom were at the Monday meeting at the Dane County Extension office's public meeting room.
"We want the legislature to see the full range of comments," Rhinesmith, who is DOT's deputy administrator in the highway division.
The study group plans to meet one more time to incorporate comments that they hear during the series of town hall meetings and make final recommendations that will be forwarded to lawmakers and administrators in the DOT and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP.)
Jeff Lyon, deputy administrator at DATCP, is on the study group. "About a year ago Secretary Brancel started getting calls that farmers and manure haulers in the Wausau area were getting overweight fees for hauling manure," he said.
"We immediately called DOT and the towns and counties associations and heard about the concerns about roads. That's when DOT created the Implements of Husbandry (IoH) study group."
That group met for several months and briefed lawmakers on recommendations along the way.
Lyon said some legislation has already been drafted and will be considered by lawmakers - probably as soon as this fall.
The group understands that there needs to be a balance of the needs of farmers and other road users, he said. "We are cognizant of safety but we also know that at certain times of the year farmers need to get their work done."
Rick Stadelman is executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association, which represents 1,251 of the state's 1,257 townships. He also served on the IoH study group.
There are 62,000 miles of town roads in the state and 90,000 miles of local roads, he said. This transportation grid includes roads that were built over a period of time and may not be engineered to withstand current loads.
"Agriculture has changed over the years. Our association recognizes that it is a $60 billion industry in the state. In some of our towns it is the biggest, or the only industry."
Forty percent of the roads are not hard surface like asphalt but are gravel-surfaced.
Stadelman quoted a Minnesota study showing that heavier vehicles cause greater damage to roads.
The study group, he said, needed to look at how to balance the needs of bigger farms and "protect our investment" in roads, bridges and culverts - many of which are old and vulnerable to heavier vehicles.
"It's important to have this discussion. The task force tried to achieve some balance - based on science and safety."
Rhinesmith showed farmers at the meeting information from the DOT on crashes involving farm implements. Since 2008 there have been 16 crashes that resulted in fatalities and 314 that resulted in injury. There were 511 of these kinds of accidents that caused property damage.
When the study group convened it first looked what kinds of tractors and other implements are represented in the "fleet" owned by state farmers. They looked at the capacity of roads and safety concerns.
The group also looked at bridges. Analysis showed that many of today's farm implements are heavier that typical semi trucks, he said.
When the group at the meeting used an electronic feedback tool to quickly answer questions, 40 percent thought that there is currently no limit on the size of farm implement that can be operated on the roads, which was the wrong answer.
"We need greater awareness," said Rhinesmith.
The state's current regulations place a width limit of 12 feet on farm implements as they travel down the road and a weight limit of 20,000 pounds per axle.
More of the audience answered this question correctly. Rhinesmith commented that maybe that was because of the citations that have been issued to farmers.
Total gross weight of farm vehicles on the roads is limited to 80,000 pounds by current state regulations.
When asked if they knew the gross vehicle weight of their largest piece of equipment used on roads, about half the audience said yes.
A DOT roadway analyst said that because semis have traditionally been the most demanding vehicles, with gross vehicle weights of 80,000 pounds over five axles, roads are designed with them in mind.
Engineers design roads based on a mix of semi traffic - some full, some empty and some partially full - to reflect what's really going on.
But damage to roadways from weight that increases from that base design (like heavy manure haulers) is not linear - it's exponential, he said.
Studies show that damage goes up by a power of four.
Some of the study group's discussion centered on flotation tires used on some heavier arm implements. When Minnesota studied it, by measuring the amount of pavement "distress," there was no significant benefit on pavement response from the flotation tires.
That study also showed that repeated runs over pavement with heavy loads caused more damage.
Wisconsin also has a complement of over 14,000 bridges with the state owning 5,000 and local municipalities owning over 8,800. The so-called "box culverts" which may look like bridges, were not included as part of the analysis. Neither were regular culverts.
The average age of locally owned bridges is 38 years but there are 2,443 of them that are over 50 years old and 1,068 of these locally owned bridges are classified as "structurally deficient."
The state has classified 369 of these locally owned bridges as "functionally obsolete" and has placed limits on the size of vehicles that can use them. (There are 393 state-owned bridges that fall into this category.)
A federal "bridge formula" - created in the 1950s - is used to design and regulate bridges based on standard tire widths and gauges. But farm implements fall outside those guidelines.
Iowa officials are funding a study on the effects of farm implements on bridges and roadways but it isn't expected to be completed until 2015.
There's very little research on how farm implements affect the structural integrity of bridges, said DOT officials
Rhinesmith said the study group intends to "create a clearer, simpler" definition of IoH to reflect today's agricultural equipment. "Farm tractors are different today than they were."
Under the proposed changes being considered all IoH will be exempt from vehicle registration. Commercial motor vehicles (CMV) used exclusively for agricultural operations would be defined as an IoH CMV and would require some sort of self-certification.
The proposal would further recommend limits to the "envelope" for IoH:
• Width would be 15 feet, but a width of up to 17 feet could be operated without written authorization when the operator meets safety requirements.
• Height would be limited to 13 feet, 6 inches because that is the limit of the built environment, said Rhinesmith, including power lines. An IoH greater than that in height may be operated without written authorization but the operator is responsible for ensuring safe clearance.
• The proposed length envelope is 60 feet for a single IoH; 100 feet for combinations of two IoH; and 70 feet for combinations of three IoH. Rhinesmith said that shorter length for the three implements reflects the safety concern of how three implements are joined and the whipping action that can occur.
• Implements would be given an expanded 15 percent weight allowance over the limits that are established by the federal bridge formula, except where posted and during periods of spring thaw.
This equates to a maximum single axle weight of 23,000 pounds and a gross vehicle weight of 92,000 pounds.
A new IoH weight table would be created to reflect the 15 percent allowances based on gross vehicle weight, axle weight and spacing.
One recommendation that seemed to draw the ire of the farmers and implement dealers in the crowd (See sidebar) was one that would have them get written authorization to exceed size envelope and weight limits on an annual basis from the maintaining authority of that roadway - namely townships or the state.
Written authorization would only be granted when operators are 18 or older with a valid driver's license; when the implement meets requirements for lights, marking and safety requirements; and a travel or route plan is submitted.
Additional conditions may be set by the local or state government that is granting the written authorization.
"Arrangements can be made between local authorities and farmers to make sure it's safe and damage won't be excessive on local roadways. We want to have collaboration between local authorities and farmers," said Rhinesmith.
Fines would still be levied against farmers for operating in excess of the 15 percent allowance.
Vehicles that are larger than the recommended "envelope" might require "shadow" vehicles ahead of them or behind them. "We want to try to bring the crash statistics down," said Rhinesmith.
During the meeting 25 percent said that they had more than five implements that would exceed the proposals. Twenty-one percent said they had 4-5 implements that would exceed them.
For more information see the website: www.DOT.Wisconsin.gov. At that website there is a spot to give feedback on the Implements of Husbandry study or it can be emailed to IoHStudyFeedback@dot.wi.gov.