Cover Story
A bigger burden
Longer, heavier trucks would add stress to highways and bridges

By David Tanner
staff writer

 

Freight movement wouldn’t be where it is today without the Interstate Highway System, and vice versa.

OOIDA and many other groups that are against opening the door to longer, heavier trucks want to preserve the system of highways and bridges that is often referred to as America’s lifeline.

“Even the proponents of heavier who claim that the addition of axles won’t hurt the highways admit that it’s going to cause more damage to the bridges,” OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Rick Craig told Land Line.

“It’s questionable that they won’t also cause more damage to the road surfaces. Also, there’s the issue of getting the damned things around corners, entrance ramps, exit ramps, and in and out of the facilities.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation, in its Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study, said that many highways, bridges and ramps are simply not equipped to handle more weight.

“Past studies have noted a variety of potential adverse impacts of increasing federal (truck size and weight) limits, including added infrastructure costs, financial impacts on competing railroads, disruption of traffic flow, and potential adverse impacts on safety,” the authors wrote.

The study shows that an abundance of longer, heavier trucks would lead to premature degradation of materials and need for replacement.

One needs to look no further than the tragic collapse on an interstate bridge in August 2007 in Minneapolis to see the worst-case scenario involving an overstressed system.

The Federal Highway Administration lists 73,000 structurally deficient bridges nationwide and deems another 80,000 bridges functionally obsolete.

Length, like weight, presents its own problems for bridge life.

“Some freeway interchanges and at-grade intersections would have to be modified to accommodate the off-tracking of longer vehicles,” the DOT study authors wrote.

Furthermore, turnpike doubles and Rocky Mountain doubles would require staging areas to disassemble as they exit approved networks.

FHWA spokeswoman Nancy Singer said the administration is not currently pursuing increases in truck size.

“We understand that there is higher productivity with these trucks, but I think it’s something we want to look at more closely because we want to be sure the infrastructure can handle them and that they don’t encroach on safety,” Singer told Land Line.LL

 

david_tanner@landlinemag.com