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House T&I Committee removes truck weight provision from American Energy and Infrastructure Act

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
February 03, 2012

Shortly after the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee rolled out its five-year, $260 billion federal transportation authorization, entitled the American Energy and Infrastructure Act, a key component of it centered around trucking productivity was stripped from the bill’s language during a markup session by the committee.

When the bill was first introduced, it included a measure to increase truck weights from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds on interstate highways—at the discretion of the states that want to have them. This provision was focused on raising the weight limit to 88,000 pounds for car carriers and 97,000 pounds for six-axle trucks.

But by a 33-22 vote, the committee voted against this measure and drafted an amendment that requires the United States Department of Transportation to conduct a comprehensive three-year study of the safety and pavement performance of the widespread use of bigger trucks, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Remaining in the legislation is a provision to require all states to allow double trailer rigs with two 33-foot trailers to run on highways.

This measure received mixed reactions from freight transportation industry stakeholders.

The Coalition for Transportation Productivity, a group of shippers and allied associations dedicated to increasing the federal weight limit on interstate highways, labeled this decision a disappointment.

“It really is ‘Groundhog Day’…because this very committee asked the Transportation Research Board to study this same issue back in 1998, and the Board strongly endorsed truck weight reform in its Special Report 267, issued in 2002,” said CTP Executive Director John Runyan in a statement. “There is no need to commit further study to this truck weight proposal. Voluminous academic research and practical on-the-ground experience has proven that states should have the option to put more productive, six-axle trucks on interstates. It is a safe and effective way to boost highway efficiency and productivity without increasing truck size or making trucks ‘bigger’ in any way.”

The railroad industry, however, had a different take.

“Americans don’t want 97,000 pound trucks or huge multi-trailers up to 120 feet long on our nation’s highways,” said Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ed Hamberger in a statement issued when the bill was introduced earlier this week. “Nor is it fair that even more of the public’s tax dollars will be used to pay for the road and bridge damage inflicted by massive trucks.” AAR officials also cited how academic studies show that raising truck weights to 97,000 pounds from 80,000 could actually result in 8 million additional truckloads on America’s highways.

As LM reported earlier this week, the 80,000-pound limit was set in 1982, as part of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. Industry leaders say after 30 years and numerous safety advances in technology and a stronger safety record than ever, it is time to revisit the weight standard.

Backers of increased truck weights say it would result in fewer trucks on the highways, less pollution, reduced emissions, bolster productivity and perhaps save as much as 2 billion gallons in diesel annually.
 
“Two billion gallons of fuel saved! Who would be against that?” asked Mike Regan, president of Tranzact and head of NASSTRAC’s advocacy committee, which is backing the proposal, in a recent interview.

In December, Congress passed legislation in the Fiscal Year 2012 Transportation bill for a provision to allow trucks weighing up to 97,000 pounds on United States interstates in Maine and Vermont for the next 20 years.

This provision was part of the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA), which was introduced in August 2010 by a group of Senators, including Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), among others, with the objective to increase truck weights on U.S. interstate highway systems from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds and allow states to authorize the operation of heavier trucks. It is also focused on making truck transportation safer and more sustainable by giving states the ability to adjust federal weight limits on interstates within their borders and apply only to trucks equipped with six axles instead of five, which is more commonplace and give shippers the ability to utilize more truck space.

And in September 2010, the White House agreed to a request from Senator Collins to permanently enact a pilot program allowing trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to travel on federal highways and interstates in Maine. And also that same month 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.

The AAR’s Hamberger said last year that according to DOT studies an 80,000 pound truck pays about 80 percent of the damage it does to the infrastructure over which it operates, whereas a 100,000 pound truck pays for roughly 50 percent of the damage it does to highways. He also pointed out that if more shippers put freight on heavier trucks it brings more congestion to already over-crowded interstates.

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. 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?”

About the Author

John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

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