Case for heavier trucks gets support from the White House

<p>Maine voters first elected Susan M. Collins to represent them in the United States Senate in 1996. She was reelected in 2002 and 2008. She has earned a national reputation as a thoughtful, effective legislator, who works across party lines to seek consensus on our nation’s most important issues. Senator Collins is the 15th woman in history to be elected to the Senate in her own right.</p>

Maine voters first elected Susan M. Collins to represent them in the United States Senate in 1996. She was reelected in 2002 and 2008. She has earned a national reputation as a thoughtful, effective legislator, who works across party lines to seek consensus on our nation’s most important issues. Senator Collins is the 15th woman in history to be elected to the Senate in her own right.

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The battle for increasing truck size and weights received a shot of good news, when the White House last week has agreed to a request from Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to permanently enact a pilot program allowing trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to travel on federal interstate highways in Maine.

This provision is 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.

Last week 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 earlier this year she did not support Maine’s pilot program.

And Massachusetts Representative James McGovern told LM last year 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.

Earlier this year, a group of three bipartisan senators—Maine’s Collins, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Heb Kohl, D-Wis.—introduced a bill called the “Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA) of 2010.

This bill would allow states to end run the federal size and weight rules—currently 80,000 pounds over five axles—and authorizes the operation of longer and heavier trucks. An identical bill, H.R. 1799, already has more than 50 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.


About the Author

Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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