Panama Canal expansion draws concern about heavier trucks

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 8/23/2012

The proponents of longer-heavier trucks are attempting to exploit the expansion of the Panama Canal to lobby for their cause. OOIDA says it’s just another tactic to get truckers to haul more freight for the same pay.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports the federal freeze on 80,000 pounds on five axles. Heavier trucks require permits and extra fees.

State officials in Texas stated on Aug. 15 that they are preparing to ask federal officials to allow trucks to weigh up to 97,000 pounds on six axles in anticipation of the giant cargo ships that will be allowed through the Panama Canal once the expansion is completed in 2015.

“If trucks need to go above 80,000 pounds, they can apply for a permit,” OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Ryan Bowley says. “It would be sad to see highway safety take a backseat to competition over cargo traffic.”

The Panama Canal expansion continues to further discussions about roadway infrastructure, rail, intermodal and freight corridors as well, based on a possible shift in traffic at U.S. ports.

Bowley visited the Panama Canal site a couple of years ago while employed by an East Coast port. He says ports and large shippers are competing fiercely to get new freight from around the globe that would pass through the canal. He notes, however, that the mega ships will come no matter what, but the canal expansion continues to fuel new competition.

“There’s a huge competition between ports,” he said.

Texas, for example, is developing a new Interstate 69 from the Gulf Coast to connect to the middle of the country. Officials say the new I-69, along with a future expansion of I-35, will improve traffic flow and keep trucks off secondary highways.

An official at the recent Transportation and Infrastructure Summit in Irving, TX, stated that new roads and loops around major cities like Dallas/Fort Worth should be built to handle increases in truck weights.

Proponents of longer-heavier trucks are attending stakeholder meetings about the Panama Canal expansion.

“They’re using the argument of expanding the Panama Canal as a cover to increase truck weights,” Bowley said. “It’s the same usual suspects that want their businesses to benefit from it.”

OOIDA maintains its position that increasing commercial vehicle size and weight will make the roadways less safe and hasten the deterioration of the nation’s roads and bridges.

Earlier this year, a grassroots effort by OOIDA helped defeat a push by shippers and other special interests who were attempting to insert language into the highway bill to increase truck sizes and weights.

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