Bigger, heavier trucks just can’t stay on the road in Congress.
A provision in the original House transportation plan to allow the heavier trucks on interstates drew a quick, oversized response from the railroad industry and highway safety advocates. The proposal to thaw a 20-year freeze on truck size and weight limits was quickly dropped during the markup of the bill, diverting the latest drive to let individual states decide whether to allow heavier trucks on interstates.
In the end, the forces arrayed against allowing 97,000-pound trucks and longer combination vehicles such as triples on more U.S. highways — from the Teamsters union and highway safety advocates to independent truckers and the American Association of Railroads — proved mightier than those supporting expanded use of heavier trucks. Those advocates included the American Trucking Associations and the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, a group of allied shippers and truckers.
The original heavy-truck proposal was removed from the bill and replaced with an amendment calling for further study of the impact super-heavy trucks would have on roads and bridges. The amendment was approved in a 33-22 vote by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during the Feb. 2 markup.
Backers of what they call productivity aren’t giving up. “While we are very disappointed in the outcome, our effort is far from over,” said John Runyan, executive director of the CTP. “We will be working with members of Congress to introduce a significant amendment during consideration of the highway bill on the House floor.”
A move toward 97,000-pound trucks would face a major roadblock in the Senate, where Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., an architect of the federal freeze on gross vehicle weights and chairman of the Commerce Committee’s Surface Transportation subcommittee, opposes raising the 80,000-pound limit.
“Larger and heavier trucks mean bigger safety risks for highway drivers,” Lautenberg said in a Jan. 26 letter to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., and ranking member Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. “Some have argued that truck limits should be determined individually by states. Such a piecemeal approach to interstate transportation would not respect states’ rights to keep their transportation systems safe and in a state of good repair. It would also ignore the important federal role in facilitating interstate commerce in a fair and consistent manner.”
Maine and Vermont allow limited use of 97,000-pound trucks on interstate highways under a federally approved pilot program. The states say the program improves highway safety by getting gigantic logging trucks off secondary highways and back roads where they are more likely to cause accidents.
Paradoxically, the House bill still contains a provision that would allow states to permit 126,000-pound vehicles on short stretches of interstate under special circumstances. Many provisions championed by the ATA and shippers survived the markup, including the creation of a clearinghouse for positive drug and alcohol tests by commercial drivers, the strengthening of commercial drivers license testing guidelines and directives for crashworthiness standards for large trucks.
The House bill also would set standards for the expanded use of electronic logging devices by drivers, while streamlining and refocusing federal transportation programs, the ATA said.