The Federal Highway Administration, facing lawsuits in four states and intense opposition in several others, yesterday backed off slightly from its recent ruling that permitted double-trailer trucks to use 139,000 miles of non-Interstate primary highways.
Federal Highway Administrator Ray A. Barnhart said he was withdrawing permission for the double trucks to use federally designated roads in the four states--Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Vermont--that have sued the federal government over the issue.
At the same time, Barnhart said, the FHWA will begin developing regulations for each of the states to resolve differences between what the states had recommended and what the federal government required.
Further, federal officials will continue to negotiate with other states to resolve problems that they may have with the designations, according to an official of the Justice Department, which represents the FHWA in court.
The issue arises from the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, which increased gasoline and diesel fuel taxes 5 cents a gallon. That law also required all states to accept double-trailer trucks on the Interstate system and to designate non-Interstate roads that the trucks could use.
On April 5 the FHWA designated 139,000 miles that double trucks could use, about 75 percent of that total recommended by the states. Each of the four states that sued already had designated some off-Interstate highway mileage for double-trailer use; those miles will remain open to the trucks while the new regulations are written.
A federal court in Georgia recently voided the FHWA designations in that state because, the court said, FHWA did not follow the federal Administrative Procedures Act, which requires public hearings and comment periods before a rule can take effect.
In Vermont, a state court also suspended portions of the federal rule, which required that the state open 291 miles of roads to the double-trailer trucks. Gov. Richard A. Snelling had said that many of those miles were not safe for the big rigs, which can reach a length of 70 feet with two trailers and a tractor.
The provision for double-trailer trucks has created a furor in many states, including several that have not sued. New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, for example, has barred what he calls "monster" trucks from all roads, except the New Jersey Turnpike, the Atlantic City expressway, the Interstates and parts of one state route.
"A lot of states might prefer to attempt to negotiate an amicable settlement with DOT the Department of Transportation " rather than go through rulemaking, the Justice Department official said. "Once the Transportation Department complies with rule-making requirements , it can impose the designation."