LCVs and aging infrastructure

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 1/30/2012

Freight movement wouldn’t be where it is today without the Interstate Highway System, and vice versa. And as the system’s roads, ramps and bridges continues to age, any effort to increase truck size and weight beyond the current limits is going to be met with opposition.

In addition to the other discussion points about equipment, logistics and the environment is a rather large elephant in the room – the premature degradation of the system. This not only applies to pavement conditions due to heavier weights, it applies to the wider “off-tracking” experienced by larger vehicles that affects curves, shoulders, curbs, ramps, signs and intersections.

“Proponents of heavier trucks want lawmakers to ignore the increased damage these vehicles will do to already crumbling infrastructure,” said OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Joe Rajkovacz. “Their answer to that dilemma is to make every trucker pay increased fees/taxes to improve bridges for the small minority that will derive economic benefit from heavier trucks.”

Basic limits for truck size and weight have not changed since 1982 with the exception of a national freeze on limits implemented in 1991. Twenty-three states that had allowances prior to the freeze still allow various types of LCVs on designated routes by permit.

OOIDA’s position is to keep current limits the same including for the 23 states that were “grandfathered” under the 1991 law.

The Federal Highway Administration currently lists 73,000 bridges as structurally deficient and another 80,000 as functionally obsolete. Repair and rehabilitation cost for these bridges is estimated at $188 billion already, and that number does not take increased size and weight into account.

If the way were to be cleared for longer and heavier trucks as a new status quo, federal and state governments would have to upgrade roadways, bridges, ramps and intersections. Rest stops and scale houses would have to be upgraded in many areas. And many shippers would have to create staging areas and upgrade their facilities as well.

“One issue related to infrastructure not discussed by proponents is: it’s not always an issue of bridges and pavement,” Rajkovacz said. “The Federal Highway Administration funds state truck scale operations throughout the U.S. and many state scale locations will have to be redesigned/re-constructed to accommodate longer and heavier vehicles.”

Despite the push by some lawmakers, shippers and large carriers to increase truck size and weight on America’s highways as a matter of productivity and competition, the Obama administration is not pursuing any new regulations at this time, a Federal Highway Administration official confirmed to Land Line.

The last time the U.S. Department of Transportation conducted an all-encompassing review of longer combination vehicles (LCVs) was in 2000 with the release of the Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study. That study was not exactly a glowing endorsement.

“Nationwide use of LCVs would entail significant infrastructure costs, adverse impacts on railroads, and potentially negative safety impacts,” the authors wrote at the time.

“Furthermore, officials in many states that currently do not allow LCVs oppose policies that would relax restrictions on LCV use. In addition to concerns about infrastructure costs and safety risks, their opposition likely reflects apprehension about larger trucks by motorist and other interest groups in their states.”

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