SPECIAL REPORT: Bill aims to freeze truck size, weights on interstates

| 3/25/2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 – Given the state of the nation’s infrastructure, a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives seeks to lock down the current size and weight of trucks and trailers.

“The Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act” was introduced this past week by Rep. James McGovern, D-MA.

The bill, HR1618, seeks to prohibit states from allowing trailers longer than 53 feet to operate on the National Highway System – which includes the Interstate System – unless the state allowed the longer trailers as of June 1, 2008.

It also takes aim at combos by seeking to restrict states to the maximum lengths on the books as of June 1, 2008, as well.

The bill also seeks to freeze the weight limits currently in place as well. The bill aims to prohibit states from allowing weights to exceed Interstate weight limits on the Interstate System unless it was lawful on July 1, 1956. In the case of the overall gross weight, the limit of any group of two or more consecutive axles would stay consistent with the weights enacted with the Federal-Aid Highway Amendments of 1974. 
The bill does not eliminate a state’s ability to permit oversize or overweight loads.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has battled attempts to increase the size and weights of trucks operating on the interstates for years.

“OOIDA members know from firsthand experience that further increases in size and weights of commercial motor vehicles can endanger highway users and hasten the deterioration of our nation’s road and bridges,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said.

The introduction of HR1618, which has 48 co-sponsors signed on, trumped a planned “fly-in” March 31 through April 1 by several groups. They were planning to converge on Washington, DC, in hopes of getting lawmakers to introduce legislation that would increase size and weights on the National Highway System.

Coalitions such as Americans for Safe and Efficient Transportation, Coalition for Transportation Productivity and AgTec are leaning on lawmakers throughout Congress, trying to sway them into believing that 97,000-pound, six-axle trucks are the answer to a myriad of problems facing the trucking industry and the nation.

The groups are composed of businesses from heavy commodity industries such as the paper, logging and steel industries, just to name a few, and they are in addition to several mega carriers.

One of the groups, ASET, is even to the point where they are finalizing potential legislative language they are going to shop by members of Congress in an attempt to get it added to the highway funding reauthorization bill being developed right now.

“Increasing allowable vehicle weights from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds may be described by some as a minor change, but could have a dramatic impact on the safety and structural integrity of some federal aid highways,” Spencer said.

OOIDA officials have also pointed out that while it is an established market within the trucking industry, heavy haul isn’t for everyone.

Right now, heavier trucks are a specialized gig that requires an extended level of oversight at the state level through permitting and such. There is a certain amount of investment and business savvy required to compete in that market. As a result, truckers who work heavy haul are experienced, safe drivers.

Spencer pointed out that stability, mobility and maneuverability are substantially reduced on bigger and heavier trucks. 

“The larger and heavier the vehicle, the more problems it has interacting with other vehicles on the highway. Increases to current standards could seriously jeopardize the safety of both automobile and commercial truck drivers,” he said.

Beyond the safety of highway users in and around oversize and overweight trucks, Spencer also points to the toll they will take on the already weakened highway system.

“OOIDA members know that heavier trucks put additional stress on our already deteriorating highways and bridges,” Spencer said.

“If weights are increased, the already limited number of viable routes available to commercial motor vehicles would further be diminished. Efficiency in the trucking industry would be lost, not gained.”

OOIDA is calling on its 160,000-plus membership base to reach out to lawmakers in support of HR1618 and to put the brakes on any movement on increasing the weight and size limits.

“OOIDA is a leader in opposing this issue,” OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Rod Nofziger said. “With 160,000 members writing letters, sharing their experiences and concerns and pointing out how wrong this idea is, the better chance we have of putting this issue to rest once again.”

Letters outlining personal experiences with longer or heavier trucks, explaining that upping the weight limits will force small-business operators to upgrade equipment in a down economy, and detailing safety concerns go a long way toward educating lawmakers, Nofziger said.

If you don’t know who your lawmakers in Congress are, you can call OOIDA’s Membership Department at 800-444-5791 and they will look it up for you.

 – By Jami Jones, senior editor