Seasonal highway load limits that govern when Manitoba farmers can move large loads of grain or livestock may soon be based more on the actual weather than on the calendar.
The provincial government said Friday it will introduce amendments to its Highway Traffic Act allowing farmers and other businesses to roll heavier trucks sooner, if or when weather permits.
Manitoba’s allowable vehicle weights are now set by cabinet regulation — amendments to which can be time-consuming, "which is why it is not currently used for short-term situations," the province said.
The proposal would see the provincial infrastructure and transportation minister — currently, Thompson MLA Steve Ashton — get additional authority to temporarily increase weights or classifications on highways "within a short time."
Higher winter weight allowances could thus be extended, the province said, as the amendments would set up a "weather-based approach," under which roads may remain at higher weight thresholds for "as long as conditions permit."
Furthermore, the province said, "as highways are upgraded, commercial and farm trucks would be able to carry the heavier loads immediately."
Also, the province said, when a road or bridge is out due to a flood or other disaster and can’t take traffic, the province would be able to act "more quickly" to grant access to temporary alternate routes, reducing detour distances in some cases by hundreds of kilometres.
"This is certainly good news for farmers to know that the minister will have the ability to ensure road weight limits are based on seasonal conditions and not simply on rigid calendar schedules," Doug Chorney, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), said in the province’s release.
"We strongly support the flexibility this will give to our industry, particularly in times of emergency such as the 2011 flood when rapid movement of livestock and equipment was essential."
"These proposed amendments will help drive rural economic growth by allowing farm and commercial trucks to carry heavier loads on our highway system sooner," Ashton said in the same release.
All that said, provincial decisions on a given road’s ability to carry heavier weights will still be based on "acceptable engineering standards" and the Act will still lay out penalties for any breaches of roads’ given load limits.
The province had announced in February it would move to a new policy taking changing weather conditions into account in determining when its spring road restrictions must be put in place, "instead of using pre-set start and end dates."
That policy reduced the maximum number of days for which spring road restrictions would apply, from 70 down to 56.
Manitoba to loosen spring trucking restrictions, Feb. 16, 2012