The Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP) is calling for the non-profit group, Coalition Against Bigger Trucks, to disclose who it is funded by following a New York Times investigative report published this week that found the group was paying law enforcement officers to lobby Washington legislators about potential, and unfounded according to CTP, dangers of longer and heavier trucks.
“The railroad industry is spending millions of dollars to block truck weight reform and other trucking productivity efforts, but much of its campaign is predicated on creating appearances that don’t hold up.” said John Runyan, executive director of CTP. “The Coalition Against Bigger Trucks is organized and funded by the rail industry, yet it doesn’t provide transparency or public disclosure of its activities to Congress or even to some of its allies in law enforcement. As the New York Times reported, the group puts former law enforcement officials on the payroll and brings other local officials to Washington to lobby, without disclosing any railroad ties. We see all too often that Congressional offices have no idea that the railroad industry is behind truck productivity opposition.”
Runyan added that “truck weight reform will not divert any significant freight from rail.”
“The railroad industry has made truck productivity a ‘truck-vs.-rail’ issue,” he said. “The reality is that shippers prefer to use rail whenever they can, but they need safe solutions to mitigate the current trucking capacity crisis that is challenging U.S. companies and motorists alike. The targeted truck weight reform outlined in the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act would safely improve the productivity of freight that is already moving on trucks and spur intermodal shipping, where trucks and rails combine to meet shipper needs.”
The New York Times article highlighted a South Carolina Highway Patrol officer it said was lobbying on Capitol Hill to push legislation stopping the legalization of longer and heavier trucks on the Interstates. According to the article, David Latimer was the vice chairman of the National Troopers Coalition. He was also, the Times said, being paid as a lobbyist by the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks, which the Times said is supported by railroad interests, including the Assn. of American Railroads.
Just as the trucking industry has been pushing longer and heavier trucks, the railroad industry, which could see more freight leave the rails for more productive trucks, is fighting the legislation.
The New York Times said that inquiries it made to the National Troopers Coalition resulted in Latimer’s removal from his post.
The Times also revealed that the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks has paid airfare and hotel accommodations for law enforcement from several states to come to Washington to lobby on its behalf.
Read more from the Times article: Trucking and Rail Industries Turn State Troopers Into Unwitting Lobbyists
To be fair, the Times article also cited reports that trucking industry interests have put out in favor of larger trucks without noting that the research was paid for by groups with a partisan interest.
In MAP-21, the most recent transportation bill which expired last fall before Congress passed an extension to this spring, included a mandate to study reforming truck size and weight. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Comprehensive Truck Size & Weight Limits Study is still ongoing.
“It’s interesting that opponents of truck productivity are rushing to attack the findings of a study that has yet to be released,” said Runyan, executive director of CTP. “The reality is that existing research and empirical evidence overwhelmingly favor the safety and efficiency of more productive six axle trucks. Despite voluminous existing research, trucking opponents proposed this study in 2012 so they could delay reform, but unfortunately for them, the facts haven’t changed. What we’re seeing is proof that truck weight reform opponents are simply afraid of the facts.”
Event that study, though, has not been without criticism. Last spring, the National Research Council’s Transportation Research Board (TRB) blasted the DOT for its approach to studying truck size and weight.
TRB said the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) completed a series of “desk scans” that describe research completed, methods and techniques employed in other research initiatives and the resulting findings. But, the board said those scans were “incomplete” and noted that FHWA did not:
- Identify “alternative methods, tools, and data for estimating impacts of changes in size and weight regulations that might have been applicable in the 2014 study or in future USDOT evaluations of these regulations”
- Provide a “syntheses of past studies that indicate reasonable ranges of values for impact estimates and allow comparison of the 2014 study’s estimates with those of past studies”
The federal weight limit is currently 80,000 lbs., but MAP-21 included a provision that allowed Maine and Vermont the opportunity to increase weight limits. In January, Maine reported a drop in fatalities involving large trucks, from 18 in 2013 to 10 in 2014. The previous five-year average was 16.2.
CTP notes that 40 states currently allow heavier trucks on state roads, but weight limits on the Interstate system is governed by the federal government.
The American Trucking Assns. (ATA) is predicting freight tonnage growth of 23.5% by 2025, so many believe longer and heavier trucks will be needed to offset that growth along with combating the truck driver shortage. ATA said the industry, which is facing a shortage of some 35,000 drivers currently, will need an additional 240,000 by 2023 to keep up with freight growth.
“With nearly 70% of all U.S. freight tonnage moved by trucks, and the American Trucking Assns. predicting that overall freight tonnage will grow more than 23% by 2025, our transportation network is in dire need of solutions,” Runyan said.
“CTP urges the DOT to swiftly complete this study of how truck shipments can safely become more productive and efficient, and we sincerely hope that efforts to cast a shadow over this objective study will not sway the findings,” he added.
The congressionally mandated study is evaluating a range of truck configurations, including that which is contained in the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA) – federal legislation which would each state the option to set higher interstate weight limits for trucks outfitted with six axles instead of the typical five.
SETA was introduced by Reps. Reid Ribble (R-WI) and Michael Michaud (D-ME) as H.R. 612.
According to CTP, the additional axle maintains safety specifications – including stopping and handling capabilities and current weight per tire.
Clearly, the railroad industry disagrees.