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2/2/2012
Committee scraps longer-heavier trucks from highway bill
By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee scrapped a proposed increase in allowable truck sizes and weights during a markup of a multiyear surface transportation bill Thursday, Feb. 2. OOIDA leadership says the committee did the right thing by keeping current size and weight limits frozen.

“We believe the committee vote was the responsible thing to do,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said. “Bigger and heavier trucks have never improved the economics of trucking for the overwhelming majority of our industry.”

Spencer said the most generous statement that proponents of larger and heavier truckloads can make is that the safety record for longer combination vehicles is “unknown.”

“Making it harder for trucks to get up and down the road, not to mention park, hardly makes the job more attractive,” Spencer said. “This industry has yet to recognize the importance of adequately training and supporting its drivers for optimum safety, and most still ignore the biggest operational inefficiency we have, and that’s the almost unimaginable amount of time that drivers spend waiting to load and unload.”

The proponents of the longer-heavier provision in the transportation bill, led by special interests in the largest shipping, manufacturing and motor carrier industries, say increasing the allowable weight on interstates from the current 80,000-pound limit to 97,000 pounds on six axles, and even 126,000 pounds on certain stretches of highways, will increase productivity and reduce the number of trucks on the roadways.

But at what cost to infrastructure and safety? Spencer says the last time federal weight limits were increased prior to the 1991 federal freeze, the taxes and fees paid by truckers tripled on a federal level and doubled at the state level.

Cost and safety were among the many debated during discussion of the amendment offered by Republican Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania and Democrat Jerry Costello of Illinois to scrap the longer-heavier provision and replace it with a U.S. DOT study. The debate lasted a couple of hours on the Barletta-Costello amendment, finally ending in a 33-22 vote in favor of scrapping the longer-heavier provision.

“Today’s vote was a difficult one for many members of Congress because of the well-organized special-interest groups advocating for bigger and heavier trucks,” said OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Laura O’Neill. “We applaud those members of Congress for their courage in standing up for safety, road quality, and for the small-business drivers who would be hurt by these increases.”

Earlier in the week, OOIDA called upon its membership to counteract a blitz in Washington, DC, carried out by the ATA and large shippers and manufacturers who were supporting the provision.

The battle is not over, and longer-heavier trucks could still come up during House floor debates later on in the process.

O’Neill points out that lawmakers offered 91 amendments to the already 820-page surface transportation bill.

“We have a long way to go to enacting a highway bill, and we are optimistic about the chances of this not being part of the ongoing debate, but there is no certainty,” she said. “A highway bill will take a lot of twists and turns before it’s law."

Read ongoing coverage of the transportation bill at landlinemag.com.

Copyright © OOIDA

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