Sunday, January 21, 2018

Rail, 'safety' advocates, behind letter asking lawmakers to oppose increasing truck weight


Thursday, March 30, 2017
by LYNDON FINNEY/The Trucker Staff

“You may be hearing from certain interests pushing for such increases, and we respectfully request that you reject these proposals,” a copy of the letter obtained by The Trucker says. “Any change overturning current federal weight laws allowing heavier tractor-trailers will negatively impact highway safety and congestion, infrastructure, and business.”
“You may be hearing from certain interests pushing for such increases, and we respectfully request that you reject these proposals,” a copy of the letter obtained by The Trucker says. “Any change overturning current federal weight laws allowing heavier tractor-trailers will negatively impact highway safety and congestion, infrastructure, and business.”

WASHINGTON — A group of trucking industry stakeholders has written a letter to the leadership of the Senate and House appropriations committees stating opposition to any legislation, including any pilot program, that would seek to increase maximum truck weight limits on federal highways beyond the current standard of 80,000 pounds on five axles.

Two different sources said the lawmaker who might introduce such legislation was Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; however, an inquiry to her office was not returned.

The letter was dated March 29.

“You may be hearing from certain interests pushing for such increases, and we respectfully request that you reject these proposals,” a copy of the letter obtained by The Trucker says. “Any change overturning current federal weight laws allowing heavier tractor-trailers will negatively impact highway safety and congestion, infrastructure, and business.”

A proposal to increase national truck weight limits to 91,000 pounds was rejected on a bipartisan House vote in November 2015.

Also, the U.S. Department of Transportation in April of last year delivered its final report to Congress on truck size and weight limits, and recommended that no changes be made in federal truck size and weight laws.

Published reports Wednesday morning said representatives from beer giant Anheuser-Busch would be storming Capitol Hill Wednesday to talk to House and Senate members about a transportation priority: Allowing heavier tractor-trailers on the nation's highways.

James Sembrot, the company's senior director of logistics strategy, told POLITICO that it will urge lawmakers to push for creating a pilot program for “a limited number of states” to allow six-axle trucks carrying up to 91,000 pounds on roads in participating states. The thought is that a pilot program would lend more data to policymakers than was available when the DOT issued its report.

Both the Truckload Carriers Association and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association oppose any increase in weight limits.

Sean McNally, vice president of public affairs and press secretary for the American Trucking Associations said ATA is continually assessing the breadth of issues facing the trucking industry from a membership and legislative perspective, and is taking a leading role on issues including infrastructure funding, trade, tax reform and health care.

“ATA’s standing policy supports productivity gains in the areas of both weight and length,” he said. “However, in the current environment, ATA defers advocacy efforts pertaining to weight and length to industry proponents and their respective coalition groups, while the ATA focuses its advocacy on the breadth of critical issues facing our industry.”

The DOT report found that heavier trucks would make our roads less safe and would incur billions of dollars in infrastructure costs, the letter noted.

“Additionally, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently released its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card issuing the nation’s roads a grade of ‘D.’ They found that one of every five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition, and that there is a significant and increasing backlog of rehabilitation needs,” the letter read.

Research confirms that heavier trucks would endanger motorists, the letter said, adding that the DOT report found that heavier trucks in three states have 47 to 400 percent higher crash rates. “The report also found that heavier trucks had a higher portion of brake violations compared to lighter trucks, which is a common reason for out-of-service violations,” the letter stated.  “This is a critical finding because the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluded in 2016 that a truck with any OOS violations is 362 percent more likely to be involved in a crash. Further, heavier trucks cause more severe crashes and can have higher off-tracking and lateral load transfer ratios which can increase the propensity for rollover.”

The letter writers believe that heavier trucks would undermine the freight transportation business.

“Specifically, heavier trucks would reduce rail competitiveness, and would be contrary to national policies to promote intermodal operations,” the letter said. “And, heavier trucks would only benefit a fraction of the trucking industry, while forcing large and small business truckers to absorb new costs to their operating and equipment overhead.”

Pilot programs for heavier trucks “are similarly unworkable because of the uncertainty of their safety and infrastructure outcomes,” the letter writers said. “These so-called ‘pilot programs’ amount to little more than experimenting with bigger trucks on public roads with other motorists.”

It was signed by representatives of 13 organizations, including Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, SMART Transportation Division, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, Truck Safety Coalition, Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Railway Supply Institute, National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Road Safe America, Parents Against Tired Truckers and Railway System Suppliers.

The House vote against heavier trucks came when lawmakers defeated an amendment to a $325 billion highway funding bill that would have let states decide whether they want to allow heavier trucks on their roads.

The amendment, from Reps. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., Kurt Schrader,D-Ore., David Rouzer, R-N.C., and Collin Peterson, D-Minn., would allow states to decide whether they want to increase a current limit of 80,000 pounds for cargo trucks to 91,000 pounds.

Proponents wanted to attach it to the highway bill in an attempt to end a bitter fight over truck weights that has raged for years in Washington. The proposal was rejected 187-236 in a House floor vote.

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