The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) is weighing in against efforts by trucking interests to re-examine the raising of size and weight limits for commercial trucks.
“The idea of letting bigger trucks on the road is just crazy,” said IBT general president James Hoffa in a press statement released this week. “They’re extremely dangerous and they ruin our roads and bridges, which are already in bad shape. I can’t imagine a worse time to promote this idea. Our infrastructure is falling apart and the highway fund is running out of money, and they want to allow trucks that do more damage to roads and bridges?”
But trucking interest groups don’t see it that way. For example, the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) last month approved an informal technical proposal to conduct a study on the benefits of larger trucks for those businesses operating private fleets, to be conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).
“We hope to establish beyond a shadow of doubt that increasing the truck size-and-weight limits will result in better and more efficient use of commercial motor vehicles,” said Gary Petty, NPTC president & CEO, at the group’s annual convention in April. “We’re going to try and scientifically establish gains in productivity plus more effective use of highways and bridges via this study. We believe it will be an important contribution to public policy.”
Petty added that NPTC is looking for six carriers to participate in its longer combination vehicles (LCV) study and hopes to start it sometime this spring and wrap it up in September. He noted that the parameters of the study would focus on over-the-road operating costs, cargo transported, miles traveled and safety performance. It will also include a measure of fuel use, emissions output and truck trips that are required to fulfill the individual companies’ annual transportation responsibilities, with the aim to boost truck efficiency and thus reduce the number of trucks on the road.
Another trucking group, called Americans for Safe and Efficient Transportation, is lobbying Congress this week for a pilot program to let bigger trucks on the road in five, maybe six states: Maine, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Georgia and possibly Texas.
The battle over the use of LCVs is not new. In 1956, federal regulations gave over 20 states the option to allow triple trailers and other long vehicles. But when Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) in 1991, it prohibited the states from increasing the size and weight of combination vehicles beyond that already allowed on June 1 of that year.
Today, some form of LCV is currently allowed on designated routes in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Oversize/overweight vehicles may be allowed by local jurisdictions in California for certain vehicles and loads.
According to research by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) there are advantages and disadvantages to using LCVs.
Caltrans research indicates the advantages of LCVs may include:
Productivity. LCVs improve productivity due an increase of cargo-carrying capacity of 30% to 100% per driver. This results in fewer truck trips, lower cost, and fewer miles driven.
Cost. Transport costs may be lower due to fewer drivers needed per cargo unit, and more efficient use of fuel. The cost savings may be passed on to consumers or increase profits.
Traffic. Improved productivity may result in fewer trucks on the road.
Air Emissions. LCVs may produce lower air emissions per unit of cargo transported.
However, the agency said the disadvantages to LCVs may include:
Safety. Large trucks are involved in a disproportional percentage of fatal collisions. However, statistics on LCVs are difficult to obtain because of the low number of vehicle involved. Triples tend to sway and can leave the lane they are traveling in, although sway can be lessened by advanced connector types. Triples also require more passing length, spray more rain and snow, and have a history of being underpowered while climbing steep grades.
Pavement damage. Heavier trucks deteriorate the pavement structure at an accelerated rate. A study at the University of Texas found that one big rig pass causes the damage equivalent to 2,000 to 3,000 cars. However, the extra pavement damage from LCVs may be mitigated by the increased number of axles.
Infrastructure damage. LCVs, especially Turnpike Doubles and Rocky Mountain Doubles, demonstrate wider off-tracking on curves than currently legal tractor-trailer combinations. Off-tracking can damage shoulders, curbs and roadside signs along ramps and intersections.
Parking. The parking spaces at rest areas and truckstops are not designed for trucks longer than 80 ft.
Traffic. In theory, LCVs could result in fewer trucks on the road. However, if rail cargo is diverted to trucks due to lower costs, then any traffic advantage would be negated.
Caltrans noted that it tested and videotaped the performance of several LCV types along a 1,200-mile stretch of highway in 1983, studying LCV behavior on freeway interchanges, open-road travel, urban traffic, narrow lanes, two-lane roads, rest areas, and weigh scales. It also looked at issues such as: off-tracking, speed on grades, braking, acceleration, travel in rain and wind, noise generation, and fuel economy. The agency said some of the problems encountered included: the whip and sway action of the triples on the open road; the off-tracking of the Rocky Mountain doubles and turnpike doubles on curves; and the difficulty parking in rest areas of all three LCV types.
The complete Caltrans study is available at www.dot.ca.gov/hq/traffops/trucks/exemptions/lcv-op-test.pdf.