SPECIAL REPORT: Lobbyists apply six-year brake on heavier, longer truck issue

| 6/27/2003

The American Trucking Associations and the Association of American Railroads agreed to focus their lobbying time and effort to promote a mutually beneficial agenda instead of concentrating on the controversial issue of whether heavier and longer rigs is a good idea.

Instead, the two groups will try to persuade Congress to provide greater funding for all freight purposes such as security, faster border crossing clearance and "intermodal" truck-rail terminals.

They also will seek to mitigate potentially costly environmental rules affecting both sectors, such as diesel fuel emission standards.

"In order to better focus efforts on common legislative and policy positions, ATA and AAR have agreed that their two organizations will support continuation of the existing federal statutory provisions concerning truck sizes and weights," said a joint statement from ATA President Bill Graves and AAR President Edward R. Hamberger.

The statement says the trucking association will actively lobby against efforts by anyone else to ease federal restrictions on truck sizes and weights.

"We are now opposed to truck size and weight increases," Graves said at a news conference reported on in The Washington Post.

The agreement means double and triple-trailer trucks will not be allowed on any highway where they are not currently allowed, although there may be some minor expansions of longer-truck territory in a few states.

The players

United Parcel Service helped bring about the deal. The company is one of the country's biggest truck lines, but also the largest single customer of the railroads. Yellow Freight, which previously had pushed for more widespread use of triple-truck combinations, also switched to push for the six-year freeze.

"Even though rail carriers and motor carriers are competitors in many transportation markets, they are also part of an integrated national freight network," the ATA-AAR statement said. "Indeed, the two transportation modes are partners in the context of intermodal transportation, which is vital to both domestic and international commerce."

Meanwhile, the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks, a non-profit group in 34 states composed of citizens, law-enforcement officers, health care workers and state and local officials, wants Congress to pass the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act as part of the TEA-21 reauthorization legislation.

SHIPA would prevent any increase in federal truck weight or length limits. It also would do away with certain exemptions used by some to skirt regulations on overweight and longer trucks.

“While this agreement appears to put an air of calm over the issue of heavier trucks on federal roads, the battle will continue to be launched by shipping interests to ratchet up the use of heavier and longer trucks on state roads,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.

“This has been a problem in Maine for quite a while, and it happened in Idaho earlier this year,” he added. “Trouble is, once state officials figure out this is a big mistake, it’s too late.”

--By Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at dlarsen@landlinemag.com.