Don’t tap the keg just yet. Following a letter by rail and safety groups to lawmakers protesting any efforts to get heavier trucks approved, a second and weighty letter has been sent to appropriations committee members by the Truckload Carriers Association protesting reported efforts by Anheuser-Busch and others to rally support for heavier trucks on Capitol Hill.
It is believed that legislation to increase truck weight to 91,000 pounds on six axles would be either part of a Continuing Resolution, an FY2017 appropriations act or FY 2018 appropriations.
An actual proposal to increase national truck weight limits to 91,000 pounds was rejected on a bipartisan House vote in November 2015.
TCA’s letter, sent today to leaders of House and Senate appropriations committees, put pencil to paper on the costs, calculating that a small carrier with 100 trucks and an estimated 300 trailers would have to invest between $900,000 and $1.5 million to retrofit its fleet since the modifications would mean retrofitting trailers for a third axle, making trailer reinforcements and engine improvements to accommodate the increased weight, upgrading to wider brake drums and oversize brakes, plus the extra rolling resistance caused by the extra axle, the expense of buying higher-rated tires, and the added fuel consumption that it would take.
James Sembrot, Busch’s senior director of logistics strategy, told a national political news organization that it was going to 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.
He said a pilot program would lend more data to policymakers than was available when the Department of Transportation issued a report in 2015 recommending that no change be made in the size and weight of heavy-duty trucks.
Rail and safety groups were apparently expecting as much: 13 such groups sent a letter March 29 to lawmakers saying that they “may be hearing from certain interests” pushing for heavier trucks and stating that “any change overturning current federal weight laws allowing heavier tractor-trailers will negatively impact highway safety and congestion, infrastructure, and business.”
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has been opposed to heavier trucks while the American Trucking Associations has said it “defers advocacy efforts pertaining to weight and length to industry proponents and their respective coalition groups.”
“While this change in operation attempts to improve trucking productivity on our highways,” wrote TCA, “it clearly would only benefit a minority of carriers while forcing the rest of the industry either to divert critical resources into these new configurations or risk becoming obsolete. …”
The group added that the freight market demands flexibility and when maximum capacities become the norm, “those who cannot provide the service simply disappear.”
“Today, half of the freight on our nation’s highways would fit into a 48-foot trailer,” the letter continued, “yet there are virtually no 48-foot trailers in use nationally. Why?”
TCA President and CEO John Lyboldt said that carriers wouldn’t be able to recoup the cost of converting existing trailers or purchasing new ones because they couldn’t increase rates enough to offset the retrofit expense.