Legislative duel starting over truck size & weight

Legislative duel starting over truck size & weight

Two national legislative bills addressing the controversial issue of commercial truck size and weight are headed for a showdown in the U.S. Congress over the next several weeks

Two national legislative bills addressing the controversial issue of commercial truck size and weight are headed for a showdown in the U.S. Congress over the next several weeks.

The first is House bill H.R. 1618, titled the “Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act” (SHIPA), – which was introduced March 19 by Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) with Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) as the lead minority cosponsor, along with 47 other original cosponsors.

It seeks to freeze current truck size and weight limits for all states to those rules on the books as of June 1, 2008 – limiting truck trailer size to 53-ft long and weight limits to 80,000 lbs., unless a state allowed longer and heavier trucks to operate on its roads as of that date. Also under the McGovern bill, any group of two or more consecutive axles would stay consistent with the weights enacted under the Federal Aid Highway Amendments of 1974.

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Two national legislative bills addressing the controversial issue of commercial truck size and weight are headed for a showdown in the U.S. Congress over the next several weeks.

The first is House bill H.R. 1618, titled the “Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act” (SHIPA), – which was introduced March 19 by Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) with Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) as the lead minority cosponsor, along with 47 other original cosponsors.

It seeks to freeze current truck size and weight limits for all states to those rules on the books as of June 1, 2008 – limiting truck trailer size to 53-ft long and weight limits to 80,000 lbs., unless a state allowed longer and heavier trucks to operate on its roads as of that date. Also under the McGovern bill, any group of two or more consecutive axles would stay consistent with the weights enacted under the Federal Aid Highway Amendments of 1974.

However, a second as-yet- unnamed bill designed specifically to be the “anti-SHIPA” legislation is in the works under the sponsorship of Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) and is due to be introduced early next week, according to Jake Jacoby, executive director of the lobbying group Americans for Safe and Efficient Transportation (ASET).

“This bill will offer states an ‘opt in’ system if they wish to increase weight limits for commercial vehicles,” Jacoby told FleetOwner. “This is not a bill mandating higher truck weights.”

Jacoby said Congress needs to be looking long term now, as vehicle miles travelled (VMT) are projected to double over the next 20 years while only 6% to 8% of the money in President Obama’s stimulus bill is being spent on increasing transportation capacity.

“We’re not seeing a 10% to 20% increase in capacity that we’ll need to meet higher VMT totals,” he said. “So the issue is, do we put more trucks on the road, creating more congestion, or fewer but heavier trucks to give the system more capacity?”

Supporters of the SHIPA bill, however, don’t see it that way. “Our current bridges and highways can only accommodate so much weight, and our perspective is we can’t ask the existing system to accommodate more,” Todd Spencer, executive VP of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), told FleetOwner.

Spencer also feels the demand for higher weight limits and even larger equipment isn’t there, either. “Many times, a 40-ft. container can move what’s being shipped in 53-ft. containers today,” he said. Recent studies of shipment weights back that view up, with the average shipment weight hauled by truck in 2007 totaling only 13,000 lbs. “That’s why we like this bill. It addresses this issue head on,” said Spencer.

McGovern’s effort to restrict size and weight changes isn’t new. The congressman submitted the same proposal in 2002 with H.R. 3132, also using the SHIPA moniker. “I believe strongly that any serious and substantive discussion regarding truck safety begins and ends with the subject of truck size and weight,” McGovern said in testimony at a TEA-21 reauthorization hearing seven years ago in support of his bill.

“We should maintain the reasonable limits that currently exist on truck size and weight on our Interstate System and extend those same limits to the National Highway System,” McGovern added. “We should not roll back truck size and weight, but rather close loopholes in the current law that has resulted in a proliferation of overweight trucks.”

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