Congress seems to be warming up to proposals for increasing truck weight limits nationwide, though by how much remains to be seen. Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME), for one, believes the broad, multi-industry effort seeking to raise commercial truck weight limits from 80,000 lbs to 97,000 lbs is not falling on deaf ears.
“The truck weight issue is getting a hearing because Congress is very much aware that it’s not only a jobs issue, it also saves fuel, reduces the impact on infrastructure, and most importantly saves lives,” he said at a news conference in Washington D.C. yesterday hosted by the Agricultural Transportation Efficiency Coalition (AGTEC).
“In my state, the main roads from Canada allow higher weights, so trucks coming from there cannot use the highways and must be diverted to secondary roads,” Michaud added. “That’s a safety issue. It’s also an economic competiveness issue when the countries we trade with can load their trucks to 100,000 lbs, while we are limited to 80,000 lbs. That’s why I’m encouraged by the willingness of Congress to be open about this issue.”
Mike Branch, AGTEC’s chairman, said his group –made up of 61 associations and businesses – is working with other organizations to obtain this reform through the 2009 Highway Reauthorization Bill. “The consolidation of cargo will greatly conserve our fossil fuels, as well as not only reducing the number of trucks on the road, but it will allow truckers to use shorter, more practical routes,” he said. “Because it will conserve fuel, it will also reduce total emissions, including carbon … so this reform will improve the environment for all of us.”
Branch also stressed that AGTEC would not be advocating this reform if it would not enhance safety. “An increase in load limits on federal highways will draw heavy traffic away from state and county roads and away from intersections in population centers where the chance of a collision with a car or pedestrian is much greater,” he said.
“Also, consolidating loads means fewer total trucks on all of the roads and highways,” Branch said. “Adding fully equipped axles to trucks and corresponding to the extra weight will hold down braking distances and keep the ground pressure on federal highways the same.”
John Runyan, senior manager of federal government relations for International Paper and co-chair of the Coalitions for Transportation Productivity, added that higher truck weights and improved highway safety are not mutually exclusive goals.
“When Great Britain implemented a similar proposal in 2001, their tons of goods shipped moved steadily up while their truck-related accident rate moved steadily down,” he said. Both truck-involved fatal accidents and accident rates declined substantially in 2002 after weight limits increased from 41 tons (90,000 lbs) to 44 tons (97,000 lbs), according to Runyan “This is exactly the outcome we seek in the U.S.”
The payoff for truckers and shippers, of course, is higher productivity with lower costs, noted Richard Lewis, president of the Forest Resources Association. He said one of its major pulp and paper manufacturers researched and calculated the benefits of increasing truck GVW from 80,000 to 97,000 lbs for inbound trucking only to 18 of its U.S. mills.
Extrapolating from that study, Lewis said inbound pulpwood transport costs alone, a tiny fraction of the overall trucking market, would drop significantly from this weight limit increase:
- Total decline in diesel use: 13.9 million gallons per year
- Reduction in total U.S. truckloads: 1.3 million per year
- Reduction in total annual miles driven: 69.5 million
- Reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions: 242.3 million lbs per year
- Potential savings to U.S. pulpwood supply chain per year: $168.5 million
“This is a solution that improves productivity without massive infrastructure investments, and trucking is willing to pay for it,” noted Jake Jacoby, executive director at Americans for Safe and Efficient Transportation (ASET). “We’re reducing fuel consumption, reducing emissions, and reducing the impact on infrastructure by adding a sixth braking axle to the vehicle, without putting safety at risk. Paying higher fees to gain higher weight limits also makes this a net income benefit to the federal government. It’s a win-win for everyone.”