By Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOT
On November 17, 2006, the New Jersey Department of Transportation proposed new regulations relating to routes permitted for 102-inch wide trucks and double-trailers. The proposal represents the latest saga in a story, which dates back to 1999, when the New Jersey governor announced emergency regulations restricting the access of larger trucks to many New Jersey roads.
The new regulations establish a hierarchy of roadways open to trucks at least 102 inches wide. Unlike the 1999 truck regulations, which were ruled unconstitutional, the new proposed rules apply the routing requirements equally to both interstate and intrastate trucks. The 1999 rules applied only to trucks without an origin or destination point in New Jersey.
The hierarchy of roadways outlined in the proposed new rules includes the National Network, comprised primarily of Interstate highways, the Atlantic City Expressway, and the New Jersey Turnpike; the New Jersey Access Network, comprised of state highways and some county roadways; and local unrestricted roadways. The proposed rules require large trucks to utilize the National Network unless seeking food, fuel, rest, repairs, or to reach a terminal by the most direct route, which entails the shortest travel distance. Upon completing each trip, the large truck must return to the National Network in a manner consistent with reaching its next terminal. Trips off of the National Network or the New Jersey Access Network onto all other local unrestricted roadways should only be for the purpose of accessing a terminal on those roadways by the shortest distance.
The new rules won’t affect international cargo arriving at New Jersey ports, noted Ken Kellaway, vice president and general manager of RoadLink USA Inc., a trucking company based in Bethlehem, PA. ‘Containers taken off the piers are not large enough to fall under those regulations,’ he said. ‘Since most of the cargo we carry in that area is international cargo from the ports, the new proposed regulations won’t make much difference to us.’
‘It is a pretty good arrangement,’ added Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association. ‘They basically made three levels of highway usage for truckers, regardless of who they are. The prior rules relegated trucks passing through to the interstate highways. That won’t be the case anymore.
‘The interesting thing about the truck routing issue is that the regulations put into law what truckers were already doing for most part,’ Toth continued. ‘If you’re passing through the state, you’re going to be staying on the interstate highways. That’s the most efficient and convenient route to take.’
The original 1999 regulation prohibited the larger rigs from veering off the 546 miles of New Jersey roadways designated as the National Highway Network. Those regulations met with strong opposition from the Owner Operator and Independent Driver Association (OOIDA), a Missouri-based group, and the Washington-based American Trucking Associations.
OOIDA claimed that the regulations were designed to prevent truckers from taking shortcuts from one interstate to the next. The organization claimed, in comments filed at the time with the New Jersey Department of Transportation, ‘These short cuts can sometimes be the safest and most efficient routes…Drivers who operate the shortest distance…drive fewer miles on New Jersey roads, expose less automobile traffic to truck traffic, burn less fuel, and spend less time on New Jersey roads.’ OOIDA also took the position that the regulation caused an undue burden on interstate commerce by requiring trucks entering New Jersey from neighboring states to avoid otherwise legal roads in New York and Pennsylvania, thus causing congestion in those other states.
The American Trucking Associations mounted a full-scale constitutional onslaught against the regulations, arguing that the regulation discriminated against citizens of states other than New Jersey, and violated the Commerce Clause of Article I of the