Public Safety Issues May be Considered When Imposing Weight Limits

Brentwood Distribution LLC v. Town of Exeter
New Hampshire Supreme Court No. 2014-0729
Thursday, July 7, 2016

In this case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court confirmed that towns can use safety concerns, not just concerns of road damage, as a basis for imposing weight limits.

The Town of Exeter Highway Superintendent had recommended that Pine Road, a road that begins at Route 27 in Exeter and then crosses into Brentwood, be upgraded and rebuilt. The road was sustaining damages due to large trucks accessing businesses in Brentwood. There were discussions between the Exeter Select Board and the Brentwood Select Board regarding Brentwood sharing some of the road upgrade costs. Exeter upgraded the road in 2010, and continued to communicate with Brentwood regarding cost-sharing and also posting weight limits to prevent damage to the upgraded road. Eventually, in 2011, Exeter posted weight limits, citing continuing damage to the road after the upgrade and safety issues regarding large trucks at the intersection of Route 27. A business on Pine Road in Brentwood, Brentwood Distribution, ultimately brought suit against Exeter, asserting that weight limit posting was illegal. The trial court determined that Exeter could not use safety concerns regarding the use and impact of heavy trucks at the intersection of Route 27 as a basis for posting a weight limit.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed, determining that the trial court had read the applicable statutes too narrowly. The select board is granted broad authority to regulate highways under RSA 41:11 and RSA 47:17, VII – VIII, which also gives the select board the authority “to exclude the use of vehicles up on particular highways.” RSA 231:191, I gives the select board the authority to establish weight limits “to prevent unreasonable damage or extraordinary municipal maintenance expense.” Furthermore, RSA 231:190, the statement of purpose to RSA 231:191, says that the “condition of roads may at time necessitate the certain limits, seasonal or otherwise, as authorized in RSA 41:11, be placed upon the weight of vehicles that can safely pass across such roads, so as to avoid causing damage which may result in hazards to public safety or excessive municipal expense.” Reading all of these statutes together, the Court determined that road damage was not the only basis a town could use for imposing weight limits. To determine otherwise, the Court said, would be to ignore several other statutory provisions—RSA 41:11; 47:17, VII-VIII; 231:190; 231:191, V—that authorize the consideration of public safety when posting a road. The Court also noted that the businesses on Pine Road in Brentwood could seek an exemption under RSA 231:191, III, V, and VII. 

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