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Higher truck weight limit seen as cure for “regulatory drag”

April 8, 2011
As efforts to give states the option to raise total tractor-trailer weight to 97,000 lb from the current limit of 80,000 lbs pick up legislative steam, several trucking experts believe such a boost in commercial vehicle capacity would offset so-called “regulatory drag” on trucking

As efforts to give states the option to raise total tractor-trailer weight to 97,000 lb from the current limit of 80,000 lbs pick up legislative steam, several trucking experts believe such a boost in commercial vehicle capacity would offset so-called “regulatory drag” on trucking.

There are several regulatory factors reducing the efficiency and productivity of trucking right now, according to Noel Perry, senior consultant with FTR and principal of consulting firm Transport Fundamentals.

Those “drags” include mandates for electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs), the new Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program recently instituted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and the agency’s impending revision of hours of service (HOS) regulations governing the work schedules of truck drivers, among others, he said.

Yet Perry believes boosting overall tractor-trailer carrying capacity could largely nullify the impact on trucking productivity from those regulatory measures.

“If the proposal to raise weight limits to 97,000 lbs succeeds, it would largely wipe out all the effects from this ‘regulatory drag’ on the industry,” he explained this week during FTR’s “State of Freight” conference call with analysts and reporters. “Higher weight limits would have major impact; it would be very positive for the industry if this were to happen.”

Legislative efforts to allow raising tractor-trailer weight limits picked up steam this week as the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA), designated bill S. 747, was reintroduced to the U.S. Senate by co-sponsors Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rob Portman (R-OH). The Senate’s bill is mirrored in the U.S. House of Representatives by H.R. 763, reintroduced in February by Reps. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) and Michael Michaud (D-ME).

Those bills would give each state the option to selectively raise interstate tractor-trailer weight limits from 80,000 lbs to up to 97,000 lbs only for combination vehicles equipped with six axles instead of the typical five.

The additional axle would not affect other truck dimensions, but it would allow shippers to safely use extra cargo space while maintaining-- or even improving-- all safety and handling characteristics, stated John Runyan, executive director of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP), which is comprised of over 180 shippers, trucking companies and trade associations.

“In the face of a host of costly regulatory initiatives that are raising the cost of transportation to trucking companies and shippers alike, giving the states an opportunity to raise weight limits will help them boost the productivity of their operations,” he told Fleet Owner.

For example, the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) estimates that the trucking industry will haul 30% more tonnage in 2021 than it does today. If current weight restrictions remain the same, ATA figures the U.S. economy will require 18% more trucks on the road driving 27% more miles than they do now.

“SETA would help correct this imbalance by allowing shippers to safely reduce truckloads, fuel, emissions and vehicle miles traveled for each ton of freight shipped,” noted CTP’s Runyan.

Though Runyan expects SETA’s particulars to be added into the six-year surface transportation funding bill currently being worked on under the direction of Rep. John Mica (R-FL), he said it’s critical that increased weight provisions be introduced into both the House and Senate as “stand alone” legislation to gather support.

“The Senate’s introduction of SETA is not an attempt to move its provisions as free-standing legislation,” Runyan explained. “Most major initiatives like SETA must have significant bipartisan support, so that’s why it’s being introduced in the House and Senate this way. It gives the bill’s provisions increased visibility, ultimately to gain the attention of those who will get the opportunity to implement its changes: state department of transportation officers.”

Runyan also believes these two bills will be incorporated as amendments into the larger surface transportation reauthorization bill when it starts to move out of committee. He thinks that could happen within the next 30 to 60 days, although he stressed no official timeline has been set yet.

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