ANALYSIS: Do some homework before considering heavier trucks

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 2/19/2013

To those considering truck size and weight increases at the federal and level – please take some time to view the research. Contrary to what supporters of size and weight increases might say, longer and heavier trucks do not reduce the number of trucks on the highways, and they have a negative – not positive – effect on roadway safety and pavement conditions.

There’s just no glossing over the science.

A congressionally mandated pilot program to increase truck sizes and weights in Maine and Vermont paints a telling picture.

The yearlong study that began in 2009 allowed heavier truck weights on federally funded highways, including interstates.

The Federal Highway Administration generated reports on the program’s effects on safety, pavement conditions, bridges, energy consumption, commerce and traffic patterns.

“Based on this evaluation, the higher axle weights of these trucks increased estimated pavement damage on the Vermont Interstate System by approximately 12 percent,” the FHWA wrote in a published report on the pilot program.

“This translates into significant increases in both pavement maintenance and repair costs because of the need for more frequent work zones and increased vehicle operating costs due to damaged pavement.”

But enough about expensive roadwork that cannot get done because states do not have the money; let’s talk about crashes.

Crash rates increased 10 percent on Vermont interstates and by 24 percent on non-interstates during the pilot period. The study authors acknowledge that one year’s worth of data does not make a trend, but with vehicle miles decreasing by 2 percent overall in the state, a crash increase cannot be ignored.

Despite the research, U.S. Rep. Michael H. Michaud, D-ME, has filed a bill, HR612, to increase truck size and weights on federally funded highways including interstates. The bill currently resides in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Michaud is a member of that committee, and the bill has nine co-sponsors.

At the state level, Senate bills 1064 and 1066 would allow longer and heavier trucks in Idaho. Supporters of the bill conducted a “fly in” on Feb. 13, one day after HR612 was filed in DC. The fly in included a demonstration of shiny new trucks with heavier carrying capacity parked in front of the state capital.

Proponents from the large shipper community were on hand to pacify the public about safety and the environmental concerns, and to put a cherry on top by saying heavier and longer vehicles would not hurt the pavement or affect bridge structures in any way.

We know from studies and pilot programs that this amounts to nothing more than an attempt to pull the wool over the public’s eyes.

OOIDA has had a long-standing opposition to truck size and weight increases. The Association and its members lobbied successfully to remove language to increase truck size and weight in the current highway bill, MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.

“It’s amazing the length of effort and amount of effort proponents of longer and heavier trucks will go to and the amount of money they’ll spend to further their cause,” said Ryan Bowley, director of legislative affairs for OOIDA.

“This is a continued effort by the big truck lobby to put lipstick on the pig of a proposal that is only going to cost small business more money, have negative impacts on our infrastructure, and raise safety concerns,” Bowley said.

“Instead of listening to the bigger and heavier truck lobby, lawmakers need to listen to small-business truckers who make a living behind the wheel and understand that this change is the wrong way to go.”

Rather than increasing truck size and weight in the current highway bill, Congress opted instead to develop another pilot program to provide more data on pavement wear, crashes, the environmental impact and other factors. Truckers will have an opportunity to comment on the program.

“Congress was loud and clear that DOT needs to complete this study prior to any changes to truck size and weight,” Bowley said.

“There will be ample opportunity for OOIDA members and small-business truckers to weigh in on that study.”

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