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Report indicates some large shippers support use of larger trucks

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
December 13, 2011

Legislation passed last month as part of the Fiscal Year 2012 Transportation bill included 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.

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.

This bill also would allow individual states to decide how heavier trucks can travel on their roads based on different variables, including economic need and the condition of roads and bridges, according to media reports.

Since last month’s news regarding the 20-year extension in Maine and Vermont, some very big name shippers, including Kraft Foods Inc. and Home Depot Inc., among others, are hoping for more states to follow that lead, according to a Bloomberg report. 

Along with being able to haul more freight per truck, these shippers—and others—said in the report that they would drive significantly fewer miles per year and also carry loads more efficiently to combat rising diesel prices.

While shippers would favor such action, its opponents maintain that that longer and heavier trucks are not the answer to operational improvements and congestion reduction. They also point out that longer and heavier trucks harm infrastructure and are more costly and more dangerous.

Association of American Railroads President and CEO Edward Hamberger said earlier this 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?”

This sentiment is shared by The Coalition against Bigger Trucks (CABT). CABT officials have said that 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.

David Congdon, president and CEO of less-than-truckload carrier Old Dominion Freight Line expressed a different point of view at an industry conference earlier this year.

“There is a theme in Washington to shift more freight to rail and get trucks off the highway…that is not the answer,” he said. “Our customers and 3PLs are looking at the supply chain from the perspective of time, costs, and reliability, and shippers decide the mode by which they can move freight in the most efficient manner. More productive trucks in terms of LCVs (longer combination vehicles) or increased weight will get trucks off the highway. In the LTL industry, our primary concern is getting more cubic capacity, and if we can expand the use of LCV’s, triples in particular, we will meet those supply chain needs for time, costs, and reliability.”

The Bloomberg article said that SETA may be rolled into the next surface transportation reauthorization, which Congress will work on next year. This potential action has the support of Coalition for Transportation Productivity, a concern based in Washington, D.C. comprised of 120 shipper members.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

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. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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