It seems that truck drivers lately are able to use the convoy to do things for others, but to also do things for themselves. This week it was the latter, and it’s not making commuters on I-35 happy. At least they’re finally taking notice of truck drivers on the road.
The Duluth News Tribune reports today that “More than 50 trucks from members of the Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers are expected to converge about 9 a.m. with a rally at RMS Supplies near the Port Authority along Garfield Avenue.
The original plan was to drive through city streets of Duluth proper, but that was eventually scrapped in favor of a different, less intrusive form of public outreach. Organizers decided against breaking the law by driving down Interstate 35 in Duluth. And though the caravan might cause some traffic slowdowns in Duluth, it should help make the issue better-known to the public, said Scott Dane, executive director of the logging group.
The problem is that loggers like to haul as big a load as possible behind their semitrailers, saving on diesel fuel and making fewer and quicker trips from the woods to the mill. The preferred system is a six-axle truck carrying 90,000 pounds or more of wood, but state regulations in Minnesota restrict lumber truck weights on federal highways to 80,000 pounds. Because of this logging trucks must drive down alternative routes, like Highway 61, Superior Street, Mesaba Avenue and other city streets.
“We have trucks coming up from the south driving parallel to the freeway on old Highway 61. That doesn’t make sense. We have trucks forced to drive through residential and city streets in Duluth where they really don’t belong,” Dane said.
Logging advocacy groups have helped change the weight limits in other key forestry states like Maine, Vermont, Michigan, New Hampshire and Idaho. Yet the weight restrictions here in Minnesota continue to stay clamped down, forcing smaller carriers to forgo lumber loads.
Efforts have been made in Washington for the last three years to change the law in Minnesota and Wisconsin to give loggers the same exemption nationwide, including legislation by U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-North Branch, but those efforts have stalled amid stubborn opposition, including from the competing railroad industry. The trucking advocate groups say that it’s just too hard for trucking companies to compete on an even playing field.
The crumbling Minnesota logging industry is making a desperate attempt at getting the backing of the public using this convoy, billboard and television ad campaigns and more. Yet the industry continues to decline, with multiple mill and plant closures in recent years, slashing demand for timber to about half of its peak a decade ago.
“We need the state to tell that international (business) community that Minnesota has an abundant supply of affordable fiber here that’s sustainable,” Dane said. “We need to encourage new investment into new products.”