WASHINGTON — The Federal Highway Administration Friday released a series of technical reports on truck size and weight for peer review and public comment as a major step moving toward the completion of the comprehensive study called for in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).
The FHWA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation, said in a summary of the report that it found the data limitations related to truck size and weight are so profound that no changes in the relevant laws and regulations should be considered until the limitations are overcome.
Specifically, MAP-21 directed the DOT to study the issues associated with trucks operating within and in excess of current size and weight limits and assess the impacts on safety, pavement and bridge deterioration, enforcement and shifts to other modes of transport such as rail. The five technical reports released today cover the study areas.
“FHWA did not intend to develop or support a position on changes to current federal truck size and weight limits in this study; rather, the agency intended to assess the impacts that any such changes might have in the various areas included in the study to better understand the impacts that trucks operating above current federal truck size and weight limits have today,” the agency said in the technical report. “The study was set up to provide the results of the assessments that were completed and to provide a summary of this analysis to Congress.”
The report immediately drew the ire of the American Trucking Associations and the support of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP).
ATA President and CEO Bill Graves lambasted the DOT and FHWA for releasing the study because it said that the potential impacts the agencies studied should not be used as a basis for policy.
“Given the timing of the release of this study, it is an obvious attempt to promote administration policy, rather than give Congress the unbiased information it requested,” Graves said. “It is appalling that after years of saying the study would not make recommendations, DOT officials would release this report and recommend no change in current law just days after the White House came out opposing truck productivity increases.”
Graves’ reference was to a statement by President Barack Obama earlier this week that he would veto the FY2016 Department of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill if it reached his desk with certain facets, including allowing twin 33-foot trailers on the nation’s urban highways.
The Coalition for Transportation Productivity said the report would put the responsibility on Congress to determine whether larger and heavier trucks could be driven on the nation’s highways.
“The report findings can be added to the growing list of state, federal, international and academic research confirming the safety and efficiency benefits of the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act,” said CTP Executive Director John Runyan. “In fact, this data debunks several major points of opposition to six-axle truck weight reform, affirming that the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act configuration is safe, more productive and would reduce vehicle miles traveled without any significant shift of freight from rail.”
The Safe and Efficient Transportation Act gives each state the option to set Interstate weight limits of up to 97,000 pounds.
Graves honed in on the twin 33-foot tandem configuration that is included in the appropriations bill.
“Our experience as an industry, as seen by the safe and efficient use of twin 33-foot trailers in the states of Florida and North Dakota, shows the obvious benefits of this configuration,” he said. “As flimsy as this report is, it at least acknowledges these more productive combinations will improve efficiency, saving American consumers billions of dollars. We will continue reviewing DOT’s report to see how it arrived at conclusions that are so different from our industry’s experience and previous research in this area, including the Transportation Research Board’s 2002 investigation, which recommended nationwide operation of 33-foot double trailers.”
“U.S. DOT officials began this study process with the intention to only release technical findings and make no policy recommendations. The department’s inability to endorse gross vehicle weight reform without a more robust study is neither surprising nor unexpected, especially given the highly charged atmosphere surrounding this study,” Runyan said. “With nearly 70 percent of all U.S. freight tonnage moved by trucks and overall freight tonnage expected to grow nearly 25 percent over the next decade, we need solutions to make both trucking and rail productive. It is now up to Congress to decide if heavier six-axle vehicles, which clearly have few negatives and many positives, can be utilized to address the capacity crisis.”
FHWA said in releasing the technical report Friday that while pointing to significant data limitations to complete a comprehensive study, the report provides an opportunity for experts in the field to comment in anticipation of the final report to Congress.
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