§17C-17A-1. Legislative findings and creation of program.

(a) The Legislature finds and declares that:

(1) No other economic undertaking in the history of West Virginia has had a greater impact upon the citizens of this state, providing such an economic force and affecting the social construct and day-to-day life and environment of the people and communities of this state, than the activities associated with the extraction, transportation and consumption of coal or its byproducts. In areas of this state where the coal industry exists, the economic benefits of coal production are an indispensable part of the local community's vitality.

(2) The historic progression of the coal industry has resulted in an increasing use of the public highways of this state for the transportation of coal to river ports, power generators or rail loading facilities. Roads where coal is transported are mainly two-lane rural roads and highways of varying grades and conditions. The daily presence of large commercial motor vehicles on these roads and highways causes significant impact to local communities and the local transportation infrastructure. Local residents are exposed on a daily basis to the dangers associated with sharing the road with a large number of these vehicles.

(3) The increased capacity and ability of coal-hauling vehicles, tied with increased economic pressures to reduce industry transportation costs, have created economic incentives for transporting coal at higher than legal limits and for drivers to drive long hours and operate these vehicles at higher rates of speed. Consequently, average vehicle weights have increased and many coal transport vehicles regularly exceed the lawful limit by more than one hundred percent. The excessive weights of these vehicles have also resulted in the rapid deterioration of state roads and bridges, creating significant costs to the state of millions of dollars in lost road and bridge use and life.

(4) Advances in truck stability, braking and safety technology have made modern coal transporters much safer conveyances than those used by the industry when the state's current weight laws were enacted. Further advances in technology have made tracking and recording individual vehicles, their operators and loads significantly more efficient.

(5) Enforcement of truck safety and driver safety laws has been divided between various jurisdictions such as local and state law enforcement, the Division of Highways and the Public Service Commission. As a result, local and state enforcement of those comprehensive laws has not been uniform, with the result that many of these laws have not been enforced.

(6) The resulting need for a remedy for hauling these additional amounts of coal is most severe in a limited and discrete geographic area of the state where the limited access to rail and river transportation options and economic conditions require a regulatory program that allows a greater weight allowance for coal-hauling vehicles to address the unique economic circumstances of that region.

(7) That this limited highway system must include additional safety protections for the public sharing the roads with a large coal-hauling vehicle fleet and specialized training for operators of these vehicles, requiring the program be designed to assure that state weight and safety requirements be effectively administered and enforced.

(b) A special regulatory program with administrative enforcement authority over all vehicles hauling coal in West Virginia is created. This program is designed to address the economic needs of the state coal industry within the confines of the ability of the transportation infrastructure to accommodate these needs and in careful consideration for road safety and maintenance requirements of these vehicles by providing for coal truck weight reporting requirements on coal resource transportation roads and allowing a limited statewide increase in weights for commercial vehicles and an additional, limited increase for vehicles hauling coal where the greater increase is required.