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Seasonal truck weight restrictions save Cass County Road Commission money

CASS COUNTY, Mich. -- By installing close to 300 temporary weight restriction signs throughout the county, the Cass County Road Commission saves hundreds of thousands in winter-related road repairs.

“They are one of the largest steps that we can take to help preserve the structure of the road,” said Steve Lucas, the managing director of the road commission.

Semi traffic is nothing new in Cass County.

But each truck that barrels down a frozen winter road makes the pavement beneath it weaker.

That’s why the road commission puts out signs restricting heavy truckloads from traveling down certain county roads at the end of a rough winter.

When one is posted in Cass County, you have to reduce your truckload by 35-percent in order to legally travel down that road. So if you’re carrying 80,000 lbs., you’d have to drop 28,000 lbs.

“You can have a road that’s in very good condition and have that road destroyed in one season, completely destroyed, if the weight restriction guidelines aren’t followed and there’s enough traffic that’s running overweight on that particular road,” Lucas said.

He said it comes down to the science underneath the roads we drive on.

The roads in Cass County are made of asphalt, which can crack and shift when the snow and cold creates a thick frost underground.

Some of the county’s roads are what you call ‘all-weather’ – meaning they’ve been built to withstand the elements – and can handle regular truckloads.

But other roads in the county cannot, which is where the weight restrictions become crucial.

“To build every road into what you could consider to be a ‘Class-A, all-weather road’ would be horrendously expensive,” Lucas said.

He said converting just one mile of ‘normal road’ into an ‘all-weather road’ could cost up to $300,000.

So for the last few decades, the solution has been limiting what truckloads can drive on certain roads until spring comes and things thaw out and dry up.

“If we don’t put the frost laws on for a long enough period of time, and allow that process to happen naturally, then we’re jeopardizing the roads,” Lucas said.

The commission is rolling out new signs this year that will end up saving taxpayers money.

Instead of having workers install the signs each season and then take them down once spring arrives, the road commission purchased new signs that flip open and closed, meaning the signs can stay mounted year-round.

Lucas said that alone will save the commission around $5,000 each year.

He also said the county recognizes the impact the restrictions have on truckers.

“The message to them would be: We know it’s more costly for them to run with reduced loads, but our infrastructure is very, very costly as well,” Lucas said.

The last two winters were so mild in Michiana, Lucas said the county didn’t have to enforce the weight restrictions at all. But because this season’s winter weather has been so severe, he expects the restrictions to be in place for at least four weeks between March and April.

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