February 21, 2011
Legislation focused on increasing truck size and weights was reintroduced to Congress last week by Representatives Mike Michaud (D-Maine) and Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio).
The legislation, entitled the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA), H.R. 763, would enable states to raise the weight limit of Class 8 trucks from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds. Its objective, according to the bill’s authors, is to make truck transportation safer and more sustainable by giving the states the ability to adjust federal weight limits on interstates within their borders. It would also only apply to trucks equipped with six axles instead of five, which is more commonplace, and it would also give shippers the ability to utilize more truck space.
This bill was widely supported by the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, a concern made up of more than 180 shippers and industry groups focused on responsibly increasing federal weight limits on interstate highways.
“SETA provides a critical opportunity for Congress to enact a Highway Reauthorization proposal that modernizes American truck shipping standards in order to protect motorists and the environment, and give U.S. manufacturers and producers a competitive edge,” said CTP Executive Director John Runyan in a statement. “Many shippers hit the 30-year-old federal weight limit with significant space left in their rigs and must use more truckloads, fuel and vehicle miles than necessary to get products to market. SETA gives each state the option to correct this inefficiency by raising its interstate weight limit for trucks equipped with an additional axle. Six-axle trucks can safely handle more weight, so American companies can utilize more rig space, minimize the trucks they need to meet demand and reduce their dependency on foreign oil.”
Runyan added that major U.S. trading partners such as Canada, Mexico and the European Union have already implemented higher truck weight limits, which puts the United States at a productivity disadvantage. He also cited American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimates that the trucking industry will haul 30 percent more tonnage in 2021 than it does today, and if current weight restrictions remain the same, he explained the U.S. economy will require 18 percent more trucks on the road driving 27 percent more miles than they do now.
“If lawmakers look at the facts, we are confident that SETA will be included in the long-awaited Highway Reauthorization package,” he said.
The reintroduction of this bill in the House follows the White House agreeing to a request from Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, last September to permanently enact a pilot program allowing trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to travel on federal interstate highways in Maine.
This provision was part of the White House’s proposed Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution.
Prior to this development, a one-year pilot program that allowed trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to travel on Main and Vermont’s federal interstates, which was part of the Fiscal Year 2010 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, has been ongoing and set to expire on December 17. Once the program expired, heavy trucks would then have to be diverted back to secondary roads through downtown areas.
Also in September, Collins and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) penned a letter to the leadership of the Senate Appropriations Committee, pleading their full support to make the pilot programs permanent and allow “trucks complying with Maine and Vermont’s weight and safety laws to travel on interstate highways in our two states.”
They added that while current federal law restricts trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds exemptions have been granted to some states, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York.
“For too long, Maine and Vermont have been at a competitive disadvantage, while our next-door neighbors have enjoyed the economic benefits that come with higher highway truck limits,” wrote the Senators.
American Trucking Associations (ATA) officials told LM the pilot program was very popular in both Maine and Vermont, because they were very effective. The ATA added these programs did not have an adverse effect on safety and really helped to improve interstate commerce because neighboring states already had higher truck weight regulations in place.
Even though this is a big step for increasing truck weights, it has also been met with opposition, too. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in 2010 she did not support Maine’s pilot program.
And Massachusetts Representative James McGovern told LM in 2009 that longer and heavier trucks are not the answer to operational improvements and congestion reduction. What’s more, he introduced legislation with Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) that would have expanded the current weight limits of commercial trucks on the 161,000 mile highway system. McGovern was firm in his assessment that longer and heavier trucks are not the answer to operational improvements and congestion reduction.
“The idea of putting a ‘mini-train’ on the road is insane,” McGovern said. “To me, it is just not the way to go. I am not against the trucking industry; we need a robust trucking industry. But we don’t need heavier and longer trucks. It destroys our infrastructure and is more costly and more dangerous. We know that bigger and heavier trucks do not mean fewer trucks on the road, and we know it is not as safe. And the heavier trucks are means more wear and tear on our roads, so why are we going in that direction?”
This sentiment is shared by The Coalition Against Bigger Trucks (CABT). CABT officials said that this increasing truck weights would undermine investment in the country’s roads and rails.
And they pointed to various federal studies that cite how heavier trucks dramatically increase damage to roads and bridges, citing a statistic from the Federal Highway Administration that noted nearly one-quarter U.S. bridges are rated “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.” The cost of repairing U.S. bridges, said CABT, is $188 million in 2006 dollars—which does not include the increased cost associated with greater damage from heavier trucks.
“If the Administration is serious about addressing the nation’s infrastructure problems, it cannot support allowing bigger trucks on highways,” said Curtis Sloan, policy director for CABT, in a statement