The Senate has backed away from language in the 2016 Dept. of Transportation budget bill that would’ve permitted twin 33-ft. trailers on Interstate highways.
Proposed by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the new amendment to the annual Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriation would undo a provision in the bill allowing the longer trailers. It was passed by voice vote with no debate Wednesday, and comes a week after the Senate also voted to direct conferees working on the new highway bill not to support longer combination vehicles in the federal surface transportation authorization.
While the full language has yet to be published, the amendment’s title calls on the Secretary of Transportation to permit longer trailers “if such change would not negatively impact public safety.” In a report released earlier this year, the DOT said there was insufficient data to draw such a conclusion, and the department recommended that Congress make no changes to current truck size and weight limits.
In introducing the amendment on the Senate floor, Wicker cited the cost of the necessary new equipment and a resulting competitive disadvantage for small-business truckers. And while 12 states currently do allow the longer vehicles, 38 states do not, he pointed out. He also noted the additional wear and tear to roads and bridges that would be caused by the longer trailers.
“This is a victory for public safety, states’ rights, and hard-working taxpayers,” Wicker said following the vote.
Added Feinstein, “Allowing the monstrous twin-33 trucks on our highways without a full understanding of the safety implications would be irresponsible and dangerous.”
The committee debate in June preceding the initial approval of longer trailers was fierce, and the provision made it into the THUD package by a single vote.
The Coalition for Efficient & Responsible Trucking (CERT) has been a leading proponent of 33-ft. trailers. Indeed, the CEOs of nine of the country’s largest freight shipping companies on Wednesday delivered a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging policymakers to “make our roads and fleets safer” by allowing twin 33 trailers to operate—a move that would lead to “6.6 million fewer truck trips per year.”
“Ample academic and government research support the safety of twin 33-ft. trailers,” write the CEOs, whose companies collectively make up about half the LTL sector. “The research is buttressed by real-word evidence from twin 33s’ sterling safety records in Florida and North Dakota where more than 1.5 million miles have been driven in pilot programs with zero accidents.”
The American Trucking Assns. (ATA) also has supported longer trailers, and characterized the Senate action as a “vote against a common sense productivity increase for the trucking industry.” ATA contends the “modest increase” would reduce the number of truck trips needed to move an increasing amount of freight while making better use of a dwindling pool of drivers, as well as ease congestion, reduce emissions and improve the efficiency of the supply chain.
"It is unfortunate the Senate has chosen to give up on what could be a very beneficial change in policy,” President and CEO Bill Graves said in statement. "There are so many upsides to the use of twin 33s that it is inevitable this change will come to pass. Decision makers cannot continue to embrace unsafe and unproductive strategies, and expect to have this nation’s freight continue to get delivered. Ultimately the economy will win this debate.”
A provision to permit the longer trailers remains in the House version of the DOT funding bill, and ATA urges lawmakers to retain that language.