Dealers keep on truckin

LBM truck drivers face strict enforcement of linkage laws

A truck-mounted forklift can push LBM delivery vehicles over New York’s length limits.

LBM dealers trying to deliver building materials into New York are wondering if they haven’t become a new source of state revenue, given the stepped-up enforcement of linkage laws by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Although the issue is being addressed in the New York State legislature by a bill brought forth by the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association (NRLA), lumberyard delivery drivers are playing cat and mouse with state troopers while their bosses are fighting $1,000 citations in court.

Each state has its own limits on weight and length for commercial trucks. Most fall between 40 ft. and 60 ft. New York is at the low end — 40 ft. — the typical length of a lumberyard delivery truck. The problem comes when you mount a forklift or an articulated crane or another piece of equipment on the back to unload inventory. That adds a few feet to the trucks length or “linkage.” Which is OK in Connecticut and Vermont, where the limit is 46 ft. But once these drivers cross into New York, they’re often likely to meet up with a state trooper and maybe a portable scale in order to undergo an inspection and receive a citation. LBM dealers have told Jeff Keller, manager of legislative and regulatory affairs for the NRLA, that a certain highway patrolman waits at the border between New York and Connecticut waiting for violators.

“They know the guy,” Keller said.

The NRLA is trying to address the matter with a bill in the New York State legislature, but these legislative fixes take time. (More on that later.) Meanwhile, pro dealers are coping in a variety of ways: fighting the citations in court, modifying their equipment or finding “alternative” routes to avoid being pulled over.

Jay Balkan, one of the owners of U.S. Lumber in Lynbrook, N.Y., is fighting a $1,000 “overlinkage” citation right now, with the help of a lawyer. His drivers have been cited “three or four times,” he said, and each time the fine goes up. Balkan’s trucks are hitting against an even more restrictive regulation enacted in New York City: Commercial trucks, including any piggybacked equipment, cannot exceed 35 ft. in length.

“As soon as you cross the border from Long Island to Queens, the DOT stops you and inspects your truck,” Balkan said. Measuring the length is only the beginning, he said. “They go through everything. I keep my trucks [well maintained], but no matter what, I come back with 10 or 15 tickets.”

Has Balkan thought about cutting back his deliveries to New York City? He laughs at the very idea.

“We’re finding new routes,” he said.

On the state level, LBM dealers find it particularly irksome that a law passed in 2003 to aid tourism allows recreational vehicles (RVs) up to 45 ft. to travel the highways of New York. They point out that their drivers are trained, licensed and drug tested — yet they are restricted to 40-ft. vehicles.

Legislative bill 4505, which would amend the vehicle and traffic law in New York to allow 45-ft. commercial vehicles, passed the state senate on Jan. 23, 2012, after failing to muster enough support last year. It has been introduced into the state assembly, where members of the transportation committee are working on its final version. The N.Y. Department of Transportation, which did not respond to a request for comment from Home Channel News, is working with the NRLA and members of the legislature to hammer out acceptable wording, according to the NRLA’s Keller.

“We’re open to any suggestions or solution that other states are using,” Keller said. “These trucks are vital to our members.”

Even if bill 4505 does pass, it won’t help dealers driving into New York City, which can set its own commercial vehicle lengths. Many lumberyard owners have just thrown in the towel and ordered special equipment to satisfy local or state regulations. Dana Schnipper, owner of JC Ryan EBCO/H&G, a distributor of doors and windows in Farmingdale, N.Y., has a made-to-order boom truck that can carry equipment and still fit within New York State’s 40-ft. limit.

Schnipper, who chairs the NRLA’s New York legislative committee, can’t explain the uptick in citations. But he’s been hearing a lot of complaints lately from dealers in Connecticut and Massachusetts who get cited when they cross the New York line.

“I think the law has been randomly applied over the last 15 years,” Schnipper said. 

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