Sizing Up

Sizing Up

Copyright 2008, Traffic World, Inc.

There are few disciplines quite as meaningful these days to profit-pressed trucking companies as route optimization. The practice is so important, in fact, the trucking industry should consider using route optimization in its bid to change federal standards for truck size and weight.

That change may be the biggest item on the trucking industry''s wish list in Washington but it was evident at a congressional hearing July 9 and in the unified blockade the railroad industry set up that heavier trucks are not going to leave the regulatory parking lot.

That''s too bad because a hard look at the state of freight transportation in the United States today, from the congestion on highways to the sticker shock of fuel surcharges, suggests that any attempt to make shipping more efficient should get serious attention. Any attention the trucking proposal gets, however, will fall far short of the broad bid to raise federal maximum weight limits for trucks from 80,0000 to 97,000 pounds.

To take the optimistic view, that gives the trucking industry an opportunity to look not for what it wants but what the industry really believes it can get in the face of a strong effort against the plan and undeniable hostility in Congress. That''s where optimization comes in.

The basic outlines of national truck size and weight standards were set in 1974, when federal limits were amended to allow a maximum of 20,000 on one axle, 34,000 pounds on a tandem axle and a maximum gross vehicle weight of 80,000 pounds. Congress froze the standards for size and weight of longer-combination vehicles, from so-called Turnpike Doubles to Triples, in 1991.

The federal standards apply to the federal Interstate Highway System and also take in related roadways that are designated as the National Network.

But there are gaps in the regulations large enough to, well, stop a truck.

Most states allow weight limits beyond the 80,000-pound federal limit on certain state roads, mostly to accommodate regional businesses that need the heavier transport. In states such as Maine and Minnesota, those trucks can''t get on the interstates to operate routes that would be cheaper to run, more efficient and safer.

Looking at the federal standards in a uniform manner makes no more sense than it does to look at every highway as a single kind of road. The trucking industry may make that case to critics of longer-combination vehicles but it could do trucking companies and their shippers a favor by looking at size and weight standards in the same way, and finding the off-ramps, customer needs and clear stretches of highway that can accommodate heavier trucks.

The railroad industry will never step aside for 97,000-pound trucks as a uniform standard, but the truckers and shippers who want what they call productivity will need the rails, owner-operators and even the Teamsters to step aside in specific areas where larger loads and safety won''t conflict.

It may not add up to a truce, but it for truckers and shippers, it may be the best way to optimize.