Traffic Regulation FAQ 6

What authority do municipalities have to place weight limitations on local roads?

Section 348.15 of the Wisconsin Statutes imposes certain weight limitations on vehicles operated on class “A” highways throughout the state. Section 348.16 imposes weight limitations on class “B” highways. First class cities may increase the maximum weight limitations on city streets but other local authorities may not alter those limitations. Wis. Stat. secs. 349.15(1) and (3). As used here, the term “highway” means “all public ways and thoroughfares and bridges on the same” as well as “roads or driveways in … municipal parks … which have been opened to the use of the public for the purpose of vehicular travel ….” See Wis. Stat. secs. 340.01(22), 348.01(1) and 349.01(1).

Under sec. 349.15(2), local authorities can designate all or parts of highways maintained by them, with the exception of state trunk highways or connecting highways, as class “B” highways for the purpose of putting into effect the weight limitations set forth in sec. 348.16. Class “A” highways include all highways that have not been designated as class “B” highways pursuant to the authority granted in sec. 349.15. Certain motor vehicles whose operation is pickup or delivery may pick up or deliver on a class “B” highway without complying with the class “B” weight limitations. Wis. Stat. sec. 348.16(3). Also, the limitations do not apply from April 24, 2014 to January 1, 2020 to a potato harvester or an implement of husbandry or agricultural commercial motor vehicle being operated or transported as described in sec. 348.15(9)(e)  or (f).

Under sec. 349.16(1), the officer in charge of maintaining local streets may impose special weight limitations on any such highway or portion thereof which, because of weakness of the roadbed due to deterioration or climactic conditions or other special or temporary condition, would likely be seriously damaged or destroyed in the absence of such special limitations. The officer can also impose special weight limitations on bridges or culverts when, in the officer’s judgment, the bridge or culvert cannot safely sustain the maximum weights permitted by statute. The officer can also, with limited exceptions, order the owner or operator of any vehicle being operated on a highway to suspend operation if, in the officer’s judgment, the vehicle is causing or likely to cause injury to such highway or is visibly injuring the performance of the highway or the public investment therein. Vehicles carrying certain commodities or used to perform certain services can be exempted or subject to different weight limitations if reasonable and necessary to promote the public health, safety and welfare. Sec. 349.16(3).

In order to impose the special weight limitations authorized by sec. 349.16, signs conforming to Wisconsin Department of Transportation regulations must be erected on or along the highway where the limitation is applicable. Signs must be erected before each end of a bridge or culvert to give notice that a special weight limitation is in effect and the nature of that limitation. Wis. Stat. sec. 349.16(2). The authority in charge of maintaining the highway can exempt vehicles carrying certain commodities specified by the authority or which are used to perform certain services specified by the authority from the special weight limitations or set different weight limitations for such vehicles if the exemption is “reasonable and necessary” to promote the public health, safety and welfare. The authority must exempt vehicles used to transport materials from septic or holding tanks under certain conditions outlined in sec. 349.16(3).