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AGO 1953 No. 156 - October 29, 1953
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington


Under Chapter 46.44 RCW the State Highway Commission has the discretion to issue or withhold special permits for the Seattle Transit Commission to operate overwidth and overlength buses on city streets forming a part of the State Highway System.

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                                                                October 29, 1953

Washington State Highway Commission
Transportation Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                     Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 156

Attention:  Lorenz Goetz, Secretary


            This will acknowledge receipt of your letter of October 5, 1953, in which you advise that the Seattle Transit Commission is contemplating the purchase of certain overwidth and overlength buses for use within the city of Seattle.  These buses are described as being 40 feet in length bumper to bumper and having a width of 8 feet 6 inches rub‑rail to rub‑rail.  You ask for an opinion on whether or not the state highway commission has the authority under chapter 46.44 RCW to grant a permit for the operation of such buses on the routes of primary and secondary state highways within the city of Seattle.

            In our opinion the state highway commission has jurisdiction to grant or to deny such applications.


            The delegation of authority by the legislature to the state highway commission to issue special permits must be considered in the perspective of what the legislature had in mind in enacting statutory limits as to width and length of  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] a vehicle or load.  The legislature, pursuant to its authority under the police power to regulate the use of highways for the protection of the users thereof, enacted statutes prescribing maximum width and length specifications for vehicles.  (RCW 46.44.010 and RCW 46.44.030).  Recognizing certain situations in which oversize cargo or oversize vehicles must be moved on the highways of the state, and which are of such a composition as to preclude the feasibility of breaking them down to a legal size load, the legislature provided for exceptions to these statutes.  Thus, the public interest in safety on the highways must be balanced against the necessity of moving these king-sized vehicles or cargos.  Manifestly the legislature is not in a position to pass on individual applications for special permits.

            RCW 46.44.090 authorizes the state highway commission with respect to state highways, and local authorities with respect to public highways under their jurisdiction, to issue special permits in writing authorizing the applicant to operate vehicles in excess of the maximum size otherwise authorized.  This section further requires that the applicant for the special permit show good cause for its issuance, and that the authority issuing such permit be responsible for the maintenance of the highway involved.

            RCW 47.24.010 provides, in part, that city streets that form the route of any state highway shall be constructed and maintained by the director (now state highway commission) from state funds.  RCW 46.44.093 authorizes the authority issuing such special permits to impose conditions of operation of such vehicles.  Chapter 193, Laws of 1953, is entitled "City and Town Streets as Part of State Highways‑-Jurisdiction."  Section 1 (10) of this chapter provides as follows:

            "The city or town shall have the right to issue overload or overwidth permits for vehicles to operate on such streets or roads subject to regulations printed and distributed to the cities and towns by the director;"

            This provision does not authorize the city of Seattle to issue special permits for the operation of these buses on state highways within Seattle city limits because the subsection is silent on the subject of overlength vehicles.

            We conclude that the granting or withholding of special permits to the Seattle Transit System is discretionary with the state highway commission.  In ruling on such an application, the commission should apply the following test:  Is the  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] applicant's probable inconvenience which would result from a denial of this application sufficient to outweigh the potential harm to traffic safety that the granting of the application would occasion?

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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