ANNAPOLIS -- Over the objection of independent truckers, business groups appear to be headed toward victory this year in their long battle for 53-foot trailers in Maryland.
Most opposition to the measure to increase the length limit from 48 feet largely has dissipated because of a series of safety requirements being added to last year's bill because of the safety requirements being added to this year's legislation at the request of the state Transportation Department.
The current 48-foot limit places Maryland among only a handful of states, including New Jersey and most New England states, that don't allow the newest 53-foot truck trailers.
The issue is important mostly to companies that want to ship greater quantities lighter-weight goods. There would be no conflict with the state's 80,000-pound weight limit even with the longer trailers.
"We are unable to use 53-footers in the state of Maryland, whereas the majority of our competitors can use them because they're domiciled in states" that allow them, said David L. Jordan, manager of distribution and administrative services for McCormick & Co. Inc.
Fred Vandermast, Black & Decker Corp.'s director of transportation services, said the longer trailers mean "an improvement in productivity." The company ships goods from Easton and Hampstead.
Independent truckers, those who own tractors and pull clients' trailers, oppose the bill for safety and economic reasons.
"They have enough trouble pulling a 48-foot, 102-inch-wide trailer," said Rita Bontz, president of the Independent Truckers and Drivers Association. The longer trailers are "very tough to maneuver," she said, and drivers feel "that they're going to be hauling more freight for no more money."
Still, Ms. Bontz said "I think it's going to pass. I think we're going to have 53-foot trailers in Maryland."
That is partly because Baltimore, which feared the trouble the longer trailers would cause on congested city streets, is working out a compromise with the Transportation Department, said Drew Cobbs, assistant to the transportation secretary.
Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Baltimore County, said the bill he and Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, plan to introduce next week would restrictthe longer trucks to highways and routes directly to and from marine terminals in the city.
Also, lobbyists for two main AAA branches in Maryland said they won't oppose the bill if the safety measures remain.
Delegate Anne S. Perkins, D-Baltimore and chairwoman of the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee, where the measure died last year, said she would like to see what safety measures will be added before she can predict the bill's fate this year.