Mississippi farmers who hire out-of-state contract haulers to help move this year’s crops to market should make sure those haulers comply with the state’s licensing and fuel laws.
Otherwise, delays could result if they’re stopped for violations by Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) enforcement officers.
“We’re going to be paying close attention to these trucks during harvest season,” says Willie Huff, director of MDOT’s Office of Enforcement, who discussed the agency’s regulations at the joint annual meeting of the Delta Council Ginning and Cotton Quality Committee and the Southern Cotton Ginners Association.
Out-of-state trucks must have either a three-day trip permit or temporary Mississippi tag, he says, they have to buy fuel in Mississippi, and the driver must have a valid commercial driver’s license and proper insurance.
“If one of these trucks is stopped for a violation, it can increase the amount of time in transporting your crop, or even stop delivery for that day, until they get in compliance,” Huff says.
“Last year, we stopped an extraordinary number of out-of-state trucks that didn’t have Mississippi apportioned or temporary tags,” Huff says, “so please talk with your contract haulers and encourage them to comply with these regulations.”
All trucks, whether out-of-state or in-state, must observe and comply with all posted weight limits for roads and bridges, he says.
“We understand your need to get your crops from the field to the elevator or market as quickly as possible, given the variables of weather, economics, river stages, and other factors, and we want to cooperate with you to make this possible.
“We don’t want to have your truck stopped on the side of the road for 30 minutes or more when you’re trying to get your crops to the elevator or port. We’ve had several meetings over the last year or more, working through ways to facilitate your crop movement and carry out our duties in a less time-consuming manner.
“At the same time, we’re charged with enforcing the regulations the state has in place to protect our roads and bridges infrastructure, and it’s critical that we have your assistance in doing this.”
The situation with ageing roads and bridges in Mississippi is “critical,” Huff says. “MDOT has about 200 posted bridges on state highways, the vast majority on 3-numbered highways, but some on 2-numbered and 1-numbered. Counties and cities have over more 3,000 bridges that are posted.
“We have an interactive map on our website, showing all the MDOT-posted bridges, weight limits, axle limits, etc. I would suggest your check this map for the route your truck will go and plan accordingly.”
But, he says, there are no maps for the posted county and city bridges, and drivers need to watch out for these signs and observe the posted limits. There are about 150 wooden pile bridges on state highways, and weight limits on these can be quite low. There are also many such bridges on county roads. “This can present a quandary in many areas of the state in choosing a route for your trucks.”
Harvest permit offers advantages
Legal weight limit on state highways is 80,000 pounds, Huff says, but this can be increased with a harvest permit. This permit can be obtained for both in-state and out-of-state trucks, he notes, but out-of-state trucks must have apportioned tags or temporary Mississippi tags.
“The permit costs $25 per year per vehicle and allows you to run 84,000 pounds on a five-axle truck or 4,000 pounds over whatever the legal limit is for a particular truck configuration. It also allows you to have 40,000 pounds on one set of tandems on a tractor/trailer — but you’ve still got to gross out at 84,000 pounds.
“It also gives you a 5 percent tolerance on that 40,000 pounds; in actuality you can have 42,000 pounds on one set of tandems, versus the 34,000 pounds that all other freight and commodity movers get.
“A harvest permit also puts you in a different fine structure if you’re stopped for an overweight violation. It’s well worth the $25 cost. You can apply on our website (gomdot.com).”
Huff cautions, however, that a harvest permit or any other permit doesn’t give the right to exceed a bridge’s posted weight limit. “If a bridge is rated at 54,000 pounds, for example, no permit allows you to legally cross it with a heavier weight.
“We stopped a truck last year that weighed 86,000 pounds and had gone across a bridge with a posted 10,000 pound weight limit. If one of these bridges goes down, it could fall with a school bus full of children, or when you and your family are on the way to church.”
If a bridge fails, it can’t be replaced overnight, Huff notes. “The average time is 18-months, and in the interim everyone may have to drive many miles out of the way on alternate routes to get to school, to church, or to the grocery store. In one case where a bridge went down, the detour was 28 miles — another half-hour to 45 minutes for school buses one-way. The inconvenience factor can be enormous, and the potential liability is tremendous.”
Funds from fuel taxes and heavy use vehicle taxes are the primary funding at both state and federal levels for roads/bridges construction and maintenance, Huff notes.
“Mississippi gets about $300 million from those taxes and about $14 million a year from permits. This has been flat for the past few years because of the downturn in the economy, people driving less, and more fuel-efficient vehicles.
“What hasn’t stayed flat is cost of infrastructure replacement and maintenance. Eight years ago we could repair 10 miles of roadway for $10 million; today, because of the increased cost of materials and labor, that $10 million might pay for only 1.5 mile.
“The counties get about $25 million a year to replace bridges, which is spread across 82 counties. With today’s construction costs, that’s not much money— depending on location, just one bridge can cost from $1 million to several million.”
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Huff cautioned farmers to be aware of rules regarding use of non-taxed dyed fuel in off-farm vehicles.
“If you’re caught running dyed diesel, it’s a $2,000 state penalty,” he says, “and the IRS can add more to that. Any visible evidence of dye may result in a penalty.
“Just 5 gallons of dyed fuel in a 100 gallon tank could make the entire 100 gallons subject to penalty. The IRS can then go to your farm and assess a tax on all the fuel you have in your tanks. It’s not really worth it to take that kind of risk.”