The Connecticut General Assembly
OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH
January 14, 1994 94-R-0032
FROM: James J.Fazzalaro, Principal Analyst
RE: Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkway Vehicle Restrictions
You asked for an explanation of the law and regulations that govern the size of vehicles that are allowed to use the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways. You were particularly interested in any provisions that relate to school buses and the parkways.
Certain limited access highways can be designated as parkways by the State Traffic Commission (STC). By law, parkways can only be used by noncommercial traffic. Taxicabs, vanpool vehicles, and certain service buses, other than school buses, are exceptions to the noncommercial vehicle limitation. The STC is authorized to have regulations that establish the dimensions and classes of vehicles that can be allowed on the parkways and not violate the commercial traffic prohibition. In general, vehicles with commercial registrations, trailers, towed vehicles, buses, hearses in processions, vehicles that exceed certain dimensions, or vehicles with other than passenger, camper, or combination registrations are prohibited. Vehicles with combination registrations are limited to a gross vehicle weight of 7,500 pounds (even though vehicles up to 10,000 pounds can get combination registrations).
State laws and regulations determine what qualifies as a school bus. School buses can be either Type I which exceed 10,000 pounds gross weight or Type II which can weigh no more than 10,000 pounds. Many of the Type II buses meet the size limits in the STC regulations and are very close to the 7,500 pound weight limit. Several recent changes in the school transportation laws have raised a question as to whether some accommodation needs to be made for these small school buses. Two possible ways of addressing this issue would be for either the law to be changed to include the Type II buses that meet the dimensional limits in the statutory exception or for Type II buses to be given permits under an STC regulation that reserves authority for STC to issue permits for normally excluded vehicles if it determines this is in the interest of public necessity.
STATUTORY PARKWAY USE RESTRICTIONS
State law categorizes certain state limited access highways as parkways when they have (1) received special landscaping treatment and marginal plantings and (2) been especially designed for, and are devoted exclusively to the use of "noncommercial" motor vehicle traffic. The three roads officially designated as parkways under State Traffic Commission regulations are: (1) the Merritt Parkway (Route 15 from Greenwich to Milford), (2) the Wilbur Cross Parkway (Route 15 from Milford to Meriden, and (3) the Milford Parkway (U.S. Route 1 to Route 15 in Milford).
The law specifies that the parkway ban on commercial traffic does not apply to (1) taxicabs, (2) vanpool vehicles, and (3) service buses that are not registered school buses, but which are owned by or contracted to public, private, or religious schools or school districts and are used to transport children to and from school or school activities. These school vans must conform to the STC's regulations establishing the maximum weight, height, length, and width of vehicles that can use the parkways (CGS § 13a-26 (a), (f)).
The exception for school vans that are not school buses is a relatively new addition to the law, having been added by PA 85-255. Even so, the legislature was careful to limit any such vehicles to the dimensions that were already in effect under STC regulations required by the law.
The STC regulations prohibit the following vehicles from the parkways: (1) commercial vehicles (those with commercial registrations and plates); (2) trailers; (3) towed vehicles, except disabled vehicles being towed by wreckers; (4) buses; (5) hearses when part of a procession or cortege; and (6) vehicles with registration classifications other than passenger, camper, taxicab, vanpool, or hearse; (7) vehicles with "combination" registrations with gross weights that exceed 7,500 pounds; and (8) any vehicle, including its load, that is more than 24 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, or 8 feet high (Conn. Agencies Regs. § 14-298-249).
STC regulations also specify that the commission may issue permits for entry and use of the parkways to vehicles that normally would be excluded from them when "the interests of public necessity are served thereby." These permits must specify the period for which they are valid, the parkway or portion of a parkway for which they are valid, and a description of the vehicle being permitted, and must be carried in the vehicle (Conn. Agencies Regs. § 14-298-251). In general, these permits are sometimes issued to vehicles belonging to public utilities needing access to facilities located on the parkways, but they are not necessarily limited to these.
As you know, the purpose of these restrictions is twofold. First, the clearances of the various unique bridge overpasses along the parkways are such that many commercial-type vehicles cannot pass through them. Second, the parkways were constructed as passenger car-only highways and typical commercial vehicles were not intended to use it. One issue that the General Assembly has attempted to address several times is the erosion of this prohibition by combination vehicles that have taken on an increasingly commercial appearance, yet meet the dimensional limits set in the regulation. The legislature felt it had addressed the problem in 1988 through passage of PA 88-240. This law would have required the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a distinctively colored license plate to any combination vehicle that exceeded the 7,500 pound gross weight (combination vehicles can legally weigh up to 10,000 pounds). The governor vetoed the act however, and the veto was sustained. The legislature has reconsidered this requirement since then, but it has never reached final enactment.
SMALL SCHOOL BUSES AND PARKWAY LIMITATIONS
Two new requirements have been enacted since the law was changed in 1985 to allow school vans, but not school buses, to use the parkways provided they meet the general dimensional requirements. In 1993, the law was changed to establish a specific registration classification for school buses and exclude them from the service bus classification. Previously, virtually all school buses were registered as service buses, except that some also might occasionally be used for livery service and also had a livery registration. (Service buses are vehicles designed to carry at least eight people and used in private service to carry passengers without charge to individuals.)
State law and regulations require vehicles that will be identified as school buses to meet strict construction, equipment, marking, and operational requirements (CGS § 14-275). If these requirements are met, a vehicle can be operated and look like a school bus and other vehicles must stop when it is picking up or discharging students and its lights are flashing.
Regulations distinguish between Type I school buses (those that exceed 10,000 pounds gross weight) and Type II school buses (those that weigh no more than 10,000 pounds). Construction and equipment requirements differ for each type, but both are painted and marked to distinguish them from other types of buses and make them recognizable as school buses.
The law requires that any vehicle accommodating more than 15 passengers transporting children between home and school for a public school or school district must be a school bus. Beginning July 1, 1994, it will be illegal for any children to be transported to and from school in a vehicle seating more than 10 unless it is a school bus. This change, enacted in 1989, has given schools and school districts five years to phase out the use of school vans for transportation between home and school and replace the vans with Type II school buses.
Since school buses are now registered in their own classification, the exclusion from the service bus exception to the statutory commercial vehicle ban no longer seems relevant in that no school buses will be in the service bus group anyway. But many school vans that would have otherwise qualified for the parkway exception (seating from 11 to 15 passengers and transporting between home and school) may no longer be transporting children after June 30, 1994 because of the end of the Type II bus phase-in. Thus, the parkway exception may become considerably less relevant since the only time the school vans seating more than 10 may be able to use the parkways is for field trips and other non home-to-school trips.
Most Type II school buses are generally within the height, length and width limits of the STC regulations. They are fairly close to the 7,500 pound weight limit as well. Assuming that the majority of Type IIs are within or close to the dimension and weight limits, there seems to be two alternatives for making the laws and regulations allow them parkway access. First, the statutory exception could be changed to include those registered school buses that can meet the dimensional limits set by the STC, thus limiting the number of buses that might use the parkway to only the smallest Type II buses. The regulations could also be changed to allow vehicles with school bus registrations that also meet the dimensional requirements (thus accomplishing the same purpose). Changing the regulation without amending the statute may or may not work depending on whether the exclusion of school buses from the exception is considered moot because of the 1993 change taking them from the service bus category.
The second option for authorizing Type II buses on the parkways seems to be for them to be given either general or limited permits under STC's general permit regulation for normally nonqualifying vehicles. This apparently is already under consideration at the STC, but the statutory authority that is the genesis for this permit authority seems somewhat vague.