Truckers will get their say in federal size and weight study

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 1/30/2013

Exact dates have not been set, but truckers will soon get at least four opportunities to “weigh in” on the issue of truck size and weight as part of a comprehensive study being conducted by the Federal Highway Administration. Congress recently asked the agency to examine the effects of truck size and weight on the National Highway System, the economy and freight efficiency.

The latest document by the Federal Highway Administration about the study outlines the agency’s outreach plan that will include informational listening sessions.

OOIDA and truckers will want to be at the table, says Ryan Bowley, OOIDA director of legislative affairs.

“When the time is right, the department will definitely want to hear from truckers. They’ll be doing a lot of public outreach on this,” Bowley said.

Truck sizes and weights have been regulated since the creation of the Highway Trust Fund in 1956, and have been updated a few times. The shipping and large-carrier communities have and continue to push for increases in truck sizes and weights, making claims about efficiency, the environment and productivity. Railroads generally take a stance against increases, finding strange bedfellows with small-business truckers who would be at a competitive disadvantage if truck size and weight were increased.

The last significant federal update froze truck sizes and weights in 1982. Some states have “grandfathered” provisions in their laws that allow exemptions or larger trucks on their roadways.

The upcoming study, mandated by Congress in the 2012 highway bill, will compare vehicles within current allowable limits – 80,000 pounds on five axles, 20,000 pound single-axle weight and 34,000 tandem-axle weight – with vehicles that exceed the limits due to permits, exemptions and the patchwork of grandfathered state allowances.

The study will take a look at things like pavement wear and highway safety as well as the potential for a modal shift from rail to truck.

The latest FHWA document shows the agency is indeed going to consider the effects of longer combination vehicles, known as LCVs, as part of the discussion.

“How many intersections out there still have trouble accommodating 53-foot trailers?” Bowley asks. “Those intersections are, by and large, maintained by local governments that are already facing significant challenges, and that’s something we plan to raise in the comments.”

“It’s important to make sure the DOT understands the perspective of the trucker and the importance of their experiences on the road – versus what the large-carrier community and the shipper communities are saying,” Bowley said.

“At the end of the day, any decision to increase truck size and weight limits, or keep them where they are, has to be a decision made by Congress. The FHWA will not have the ability all on their own to change it.”

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