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Mountain mayor warns against longer trucks

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Mountain roads will become dangerous and tourism will suffer if the General Assembly allows 53-foot-long tractor-trailers to use narrow, hairpin roads where they've been ruled unsafe in the past, a Rutherford County mayor said Monday.

"My dad was a long-time truck driver, and he was one of the people that pushed for the ordinance that banned 53-foot trailers back in 1990" on several highways in Rutherford and Henderson counties, said Jim Proctor, mayor of Lake Lure.

"Businesses are extremely concerned around Lake Lure because the primary industry is tourism. These large trucks are going to be dangerous and slow traffic down and actually harm most of the businesses."

The House Transportation Committee is scheduled Wednesday to consider a far-reaching bill that cleared the Senate without debate last week to allow longer trucks, wider boats and some heavier farm commodity trucks on North Carolina highways.  Lure spoke at a Raleigh press conference sponsored by the Truck Safety Coalition, a non-profit group opposed to the measure.

"The large trucks will be able to run on roads that already have been deemed unsafe, and the folks in those communities will have to go to the legislature and explain why they're not safe," Proctor said. "That is totally backwards from what it should be."

The bill would end the authority of towns and the state Department of Transportation to ban 53-foot trucks from some highways, and it would allow them on all U.S. and N.C. highways. To mark some roads off-limits, DOT would have to convince a legislative oversight committee that it has conducted traffic enginnering studies that "clearly show" some roads are unsafe.

Sherry B. Melton, spokeswoman for the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, said the legislative committee would be careful to keep long trucks off roads where they don't belong.

"The folks serving on that panel are accountable to the citizens of their districts," Melton said. "They're going to make the right decision."

Melton said the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Clark Jenkins of Edgecombe County, would serve businesses that depend on trucks and could improve prospects for economic development in areas where the longer trucks are banned now.

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About the blogger

Bruce Siceloff reports on traffic and transportation. A News & Observer reporter, editor and blogger since 1976, he took over the Road Worrier column in 2003. Lately he drives I-40 with the cruise control set at 68 mph. You can e-mail Bruce, call him at 919-829-4527, check out his Crosstown Traffic blog or follow him (@Road_Worrier) on Twitter.