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More than 1,500 govt. leaders call on Congress not to increase truck size and weight

A group comprised of more than 1,500 local government leaders throughout the United States made their thoughts clear, regarding any legislation focused on increases in truck size or weight, including heavier single-trailer trucks, in a letter penned this week to members of Congress.

The letter was drafted by county and municipal officials and public works directors and county engineers and was organized by the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks (CABT).

“We strongly oppose proposals in Congress that would allow any increase in truck length or weight—longer double-trailer trucks or heavier single-trailer trucks would only make our current situation worse,” the letter stated. “Local communities and our residents are what drive this country. We work every day to make sure the needs and safety of our residents are met. Allowing heavier and longer trucks will most certainly set us back in our efforts. Much of our transportation infrastructure that connects people to jobs, schools and leisure is in disrepair, in part because local and rural roads and bridges are older and not built to the same standards as Interstates. Many of us are unable to keep up with our current maintenance schedules and replacement costs because of underfunded budgets.”

And it added that the impacts of longer or heavier tractor-trailers would only worsen and add to these problems, explaining that millions of miles of truck traffic operate on local roads and bridges across the country, and any bigger trucks allowed on U.S. Interstates would mean additional trucks that ultimately find their way onto local infrastructure.

“Longer and heavier trucks would cause significantly more damage to our transportation infrastructure, costing us billions of dollars that local government budgets simply cannot afford, compromising the very routes that American motorists use every day,” it said.

What’s more, CABT made the case in a statement that timing is key, in this letter was sent concurrently with bigger-truck proponents currently lobbying legislators to allow longer and heavier trucks on the road. Ways in which this is being done by lobbyists include getting their favored language in must-pass legislation, like the farm bill and appropriations funding bills.

“These bills are too important to be put at risk by including such a deeply controversial issue,” it said.

CABT also pointed to studies observing that heavier and longer trucks damage infrastructure, especially bridges, and are also more dangerous.

The 2016 U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT), Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Limits Study, which was a requirement of the federal surface transportation bill, at that time, known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) was not in favor of increasing truck size and weights, as well as conducting any related pilot programs on it. 

One of the chief goals of the study was to assess the impacts that changes in TSW might have in areas of the study to learn the impacts that trucks operating above current Federal TSW limits have. And DOT said a “key step” was to estimate the effects that changes in current Federal TSW could be projected to have on freight movement by truck type, roadway type, and freight transportation mode.

CABT also said that a March 2023 study by the National Association of Counties and National Association of County Engineers indicated that more than 72,000 local bridges could be at risk by the impact of 91,000-pound trucks, which is the current weight limit being debated in Congress. And it added that replacing those bridges comes with a $60 billion price tag, with state and local governments on the hook for that, with “no current weight increase legislation includes any additional funding for infrastructure.”

As previously reported by LM, a July 2020 report by Mark Burton, an economist for the Appalachian Transportation Institute, with more than 40 years of freight economics experience in rail and truck movement of goods, on behalf of the CABT, noted that those making the case for longer and heavier trucks maintain that it will translate into fewer trucks on the road, that will, in turn, make roads more safe and result in less road and bridge damage. But the study has a decidedly different take, in that bigger trucks will mean more trucks on the roads, which will be unsafe while stressing U.S. infrastructure that is badly in need of repairs (to say the least).

The current federal law for truck size and weight, as the report notes, “limits the size of two trailers tethered together, so-called twin trailers or double trailers, to no more than 28 feet in length per trailer. Federal law limits the weight of any trailer to no more than 80,000 pounds on the interstates.”

The report offers up various takeaways that speak to the potential subsequent impacts of increasing truck size and weight, including:

  • raising truck and size limits would result in an increase in crash-related casualties, unaffordable wear and tear on highways and modal freight shifts that are less environmentally friendly compared to all-highway truck routes;
  • limiting intermodal truck-rail freight usage that it called contrary to national transportation policies that promote efficient truck and rail transportation partnerships; and
  • these changes could be “ruinous” to rail carriers and public sector policies focused on mitigating the growth of “truck-related harms”

But advocates of larger trucks have a different take, with Americans for Modern Transportation (AMT) a concern comprised of shippers, carriers, and retailers focused on improving safety and efficiency of the U.S. transportation system, and modernizing the delivery products throughout the U.S. have long called for policies to improve vehicle safety, reduce congestion, lower fuel consumption, and address freight capacity, things they said can be addressed by raising the national twin trailer standard from 28 feet to 33 feet.

“The benefits of this policy change would immediately improve operations across the nation’s freight network,” AMT explained to the House Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations subcommittee in a May 2018 letter. “First, the safety of twin 33-foot trailers is proven, and research has shown that twin 33-foot trailers are more stable and less likely to rollover than twin 28-foot trailers. Second, twin 33-foot trailers will reduce congestion. Without any changes to federal weight restrictions, authorizing twin 33-foot trailers to operate on the national highway network – only where twin 28-foot trailers currently operate – would result in 3.1 billion fewer vehicle miles traveled, 4,500 fewer annual truck crashes, and 53.2 million hours saved due to less congestion. Third, this creative capacity solution would also reduce wear and tear on existing infrastructure.” 

While this topic has been lingering for what seems like decades, each side is ready to put words into actions, if given the legislative opportunity. And with an election year on deck, it seems like the time is right for it. What direction will truck size and weights head in? Stay tuned.

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About the Author

Jeff Berman's avatar
Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review and is a contributor to Robotics 24/7. 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.
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