The battle over whether federal laws should expand truck weights and lengths or keep the present limitations is heating up.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the Teamsters and safety groups support the current limit of 80,000 pounds and 53-foot limits for tractor-trailer trucks on interstate highways of the National Highway System.
The NHS covers about 160,000 miles of highway, while interstates represent 44,000 miles
The American Trucking Associations, National Private Truck Council and some shipping organizations favor expanding these limits. They support the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2009 or H.R. 1799. It was introduced by Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) March 30 and was referred to a House subcommittee with 12 co-sponsors.
That legislation would allow trucks a maximum gross weight of 97,000 pounds, provided the vehicle has at least six axles, including a tridem axle group with a weight limit of 51,000 pounds. Axle weight increases of up to 2,000 pounds would be authorized at the state’s option.
The heavier weight limit would be allowed only if approved by a state legislature.
The bill would increase the annual Heavy Vehicle Use Tax for vehicles qualifying under the bill to a maximum of $800. Funds generated by the increase would be dedicated to pay for bridge projects in states allowing the operation of the heavier vehicles.
The bill would require data on safety and infrastructure impacts resulting from the operation of the vehicles to be reported to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, who would have the authority to terminate the operation of the heavier trucks on routes where safety problem were detected.
The American Trucking Associations say this would allow truckers to deliver more freight while making fewer trips, resulting in benefits including less fuel use and pollution.
The NPTC commissioned the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute to study the issue. That research indicated significant improvements would be won in fuel consumption, cost, congestion, distribution efficiency and driver availability.
This would be achieved by increasing the gross vehicle weight up to 97,000 pounds on a six-axle tractor-semi-trailer from its current 80,000-pound maximum and add cubic capacity through the use of LCVs; specifically, two 53-foot trailers, or “turnpike doubles.”
Conversely, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) introduced legislation, The Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act, or S. 779 and H.R. 1618 on March 19. This would extend the current limit of 80,000 pounds and maximum length of 53 feet for tractor-trailer trucks on interstate highways to the National Highway System by freezing the limits in place in states as of June 1, 2008.
It was referred to a House subcommittee the next day and had 67 sponsors.
The United States faces an upcoming huge gap between the amount of freight to be hauled and what can be hauled given current constraints, and longer combination vehicles could help this challenge, a top executive of Volvo Trucks North America said May 8.
Scott Kress, a senior vice president, said the trucking industry estimates total U.S. freight tonnage will increase 26 percent from 2006-2020, requiring a similar increase in available trucks to meet the challenge.
This would burn more fuel, increase carbon dioxide emissions, exacerbate congestion and increase accident risk exposure, Kress said.
“Perhaps the best strategy is the ability to use longer combination vehicles,” Kress said, arguing that LCVs could reduce congestion, emissions, fuel consumption, transportation costs and foreign energy dependence. Infrastructure improvements would be needed, but would be modest compared to what would otherwise be needed, he said.
On May 4, safety advocates launched the StopBiggerTrucks.org grassroots campaign to ask Congress to reject size and weight increases for trucks.
They noted a new national poll by Lake Research Partners, which indicated eight out of ten Americans believe bigger trucks will decrease highway safety. Only 16 percent would support Congress approving bigger overweight trucks and rolling back the 1991 congressionally mandated freeze on longer combination trucks – double and triple trailer trucks.