Wisconsin roads take a lot of stress when you think of the environmental changes that happen through out the four seasons. Plus lets not forget the wear and tear from daily commuting, plowing snow and heavy loads.
In March of 2021, the Chippewa County Highway Department was forced to close CTH F (from STH 64 to CTH M) due to damage from unknown heavy loads being transported during the annual Spring road ban period. The financial impact to the County taxpayers for the damages to this seven mile stretch of pavement exceeded $1.7M.
The closure of CTH F due to the damages were 100% preventable according to the Chippewa County Highway Department; however the decision made by the County Board and Highway Commissioner as a result of these damages has only been voiced to a select few.
In a letter dated December 20, 2022, sent to Chippewa County milk producers and haulers from Brian Kelley, Chippewa County Highway Commissioner, milk haulers will now have to purchase permits for each of their haul trucks. The permit will allow them to continue to haul their heavy loads specifically during the spring road bans in Chippewa County. Each permit will cost $100.00.
The numbers just didn’t add up for me with so few dairy farms still in business resulting in far less milk trucks traveling these county roads. So I went directly to the source of the letter.
When asked how the $100 permit per truck for milk haulers would help offset the cost of the road damages Brian Kelley, Chippewa County Highway Commissioner said, “The $100 per permit was the fee that the County Board adopted in 2022 in order to cover actual administrative expenses for our staff’s time involved in issuing a permit. The analysis used to determine the actual cost was based on 2021 when we issued a small number of these permits. There will likely be more permits issued in 2023 and beyond, so it’s possible that revenues may exceed administrative expenses due to economies of scale. In that case, there may be minimal funds left over for actual road maintenance work. Other than that, the repairs to the roads come out of our County Maintenance budget that is funded by the taxpayers.”
The Chippewa County Board has worked closely with the Wisconsin State Patrol and County Sheriff’s Department by training several deputies on weight limit enforcement. Since spring 2022, increased enforcement action has been taken. Social media was also a tool used to promote awareness of the weight limit laws to educate the public. Kelley said that there was no one industry that was known to be the problem and milk haulers were not the target in any way. The enforcement approach towards milk haulers was to educate them on seasonal weight laws and not to issue citations to them in 2022.
Once the seasonal weight limits were lifted in 2022, the County Highway Department and both law enforcement agencies, along with many stakeholders from the dairy industry sat down to discuss a reasonable compromise. In these two stakeholder meetings, a compromise was reached which allowed milk haulers to utilize their existing equipment. All who attended provided valuable input in regards to their respective roles, needs and limitations. The results were slightly-reduced haul weights that will also help protect the highways during the spring melt. Depending on the axle configuration of the truck many milk haulers will even be able to continue hauling full loads.
The spring road ban period is usually about six weeks in February, March and/or April. To determine when spring road bans go into effect the County’s four frost tubes are frequently checked when weather conditions indicate that thawing may be starting to occur. The condition that they watch for is a saturated layer of subbase material trapped above the receding frost layer. The water in that material is unable to drain downward and the saturated solid provides almost no structural strength for the pavement. Asphalt pavement is meant to be somewhat flexible, however it will fail when subject to repeating flexing due to heavy loads over pavement with inadequate structural strength in the subbase material. This is what the County determined happened to those seven miles of County Highway F in the spring of 2021.
The months spring road bans are issued still have winter weather for us with many times heavy snow accumulations so county and municipal snow plows are still clearing the roads. When asked about their heavy loads including plow equipment and sand/salt Kelley said, “The county and municipal snow plows may occasionally travel the roads that have temporary weight limits in the spring, which is a matter of public safety. This is allowable based on State Statute 348.18: penalties for violations thereof also apply to vehicles owned by the state, a county or municipality, except when such vehicles are being used for the removal, treatment or sanding of snow or ice or when such vehicles are authorized emergency vehicles.”
There is a misconception that milk hauling is exempt from seasonal weight limits. There are only three types of loads that are statutorily exempted from seasonal weight limits. These can be found in State Statute 349.16(3)(b) and are: A vehicle that is used to transport material pumped from a septic or holding tank if, because of health concerns, material needs to be removed from a septic or holding tank within 24 hours after the vehicle owner or operator is notified and if the vehicle is operated for the purpose of emptying the septic or holding tank and disposing of its contents and is operated on a route that minimizes travel on highways subject to weight limitations imposed under sub. (1) (a).
A vehicle operated by or at the direction of a public utility, as defined in s. 196.01 (5), a telecommunications provider, as defined in s. 196.01 (8p), or a cooperative association organized under ch. 185 for the purpose of producing or furnishing heat, light, power, or water to its members, that is being operated for the purpose of responding to a service interruption.
A motor vehicle that is being operated to deliver propane for heating purposes if the gross weight imposed on the highway by the vehicle does not exceed 30,000 pounds, for a vehicle with a single rear axle, or 40,000 pounds, for a vehicle with tandem rear axles, and, if the motor vehicle is a tank vehicle, the tank is loaded to no more than 50 percent of the capacity of the tank.
In January and February 2023, Chippewa County will host mandatory meetings with milk haulers in order to work through the required permitting procedures and issue permits for heavy loads during the Spring road bans. The permits will be specific to axle loading, but will not allow gross vehicle weight to exceed the General Maximum Weight Restrictions per Wisconsin State Statute 348, according to the letter dated December 20, 2022. Hauling above the Spring road ban weight limits without a permit may result in a costly citation. That is why it is important that milk haulers attend one of the meetings to obtain a permit for each of their trucks.
Kelley said, “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from milk haulers on the outcome of this process. By involving farmers, milk haulers, law enforcement, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, and the Highway Department in the process, we all have gained a much better understanding of each other’s challenges. I’m very pleased with the outcome of the process and grateful for all of the stakeholders that participated in the meetings.”
Dairy producers must be able to move their milk to the dairies in a cost-effective manner and protecting the County’s infrastructure during spring road bans is also a necessity. With the additional communication and issuing of these permits to milk haulers by Chippewa County the damages like on CTH F will hopefully be prevented in the future.