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Washington’s Groundhog Day movie: The size and weight debate

By Ryan Bowley, OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs

In one of actor Bill Murray’s most memorable roles, he plays Phil Connors, a TV weatherman reluctantly covering Groundhog Day in tiny Punxsutawney, PA.

Things go off-track when Phil wakes up the morning after the festivities and realizes he is in a time loop, reliving Groundhog Day again and again.

The proponents of increasing truck size and weight limits seem to be trapped in the same Phil Connors time loop. With the creation of the Federal-Aid Highway Program in the 1950s, the first truck size and weight limits went into effect.

On the same day the ink was dry on the limitations, shippers, large trucking companies and other groups began efforts to try and increase or overturn those limits. They are still trying to achieve the same goals today. Sixty years later they are still stuck in the time loop.

Unlike Phil Connors, who eventually realizes that he needs to change his ways, time has only made the folks pushing bigger and heavier trucks argue louder and louder, stretching their arguments more and more.

To hear them talk, all of the challenges facing our nation could be fixed if we simply allowed LCVs and 97,000 pound trucks on all roads across the country. Freight would suddenly move with lightning speed and efficiency, traffic accidents would be eliminated, roads and bridges would no longer be subject to wear and tear, and emissions would be reduced to almost zero.

Last February, supporters of bigger and heavier trucks scored a momentary victory when the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee included much of their wish list in the committee’s initial highway bill.

Small-business truckers like you sprang into action and sent a strong message to Congress that increasing truck size and weight limits is a wrong road to go down.

Your message was heard loud and clear, with the final highway bill, MAP-21, requiring the Federal Highway Administration to conduct a comprehensive truck size and weight study. The proponents’ victory was short-lived because of your hard work.

This study will give truckers another opportunity to provide their experiences making a living on our nation’s highways.

As part of the study process, the Federal Highway Administration is going to be conducting a series of public outreach sessions.

While we don’t know all of the specifics on these sessions, rest assured that OOIDA will be participating, and we will be giving you the details on how to attend or how to send in your comments to the study docket.

It is critically important for the voice of truckers to be heard as this study is conducted. Proponents will certainly be out in force with their “too good to be true” message, especially focusing on their argument that bigger and heavier trucks will increase freight efficiency.

Small-business truckers can talk about the real road blocks to freight efficiency with real world experience.

They can talk about how many of these same companies arguing for a size and weight increase are the same companies that detain drivers for hours and hours at the loading dock, costing truckers and the economy billions each year.

They can talk about how regulatory proposals like speed limiters will reduce the efficiency of freight movement while doing nothing to improve highway safety.

They can talk about how we need to take steps to improve our roads and bridges instead of advancing policies that will lead to things like more weight-limited bridges.

While the FHWA study won’t change policy, it will send a message to lawmakers about any potential changes to size and weight limits and freight efficiency.

Small-business truckers have another opportunity to share the facts about a size and weight increase and to tell shippers and big trucking companies that Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow: Spring is coming and the time loop is over. LL

March/April
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