Monday, March 29, 2010

US Truck Weight Limits - Can We do 97,000 lbs?

What is the effect if Congress allows trucks to haul 97,000 lbs? It was controversial when they voted to allow 80,000 lbs back in 1982. What are the ramifications if you are a trucking company? A shipper? A driver??

Below is an article from Columbus Business First. Enjoy and keep an open mind.

Congress to debate whether or not to increase maximum truck weight limits
Orlando Business Journal - by Andy Ashby and Richard Bilbao Staff Writers

Two competing federal bills which will determine whether commercial truck weight limits should be raised to 97,000 pounds will revolve around debates on safety, infrastructure impact and the environment.

Congress is expected to update the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act, also know as the Highway Bill, this year.

When it does, it will have to choose between two competing amendments: HR 1799, which will allow states to raise weight limits to 97,000 pounds, and HR 1618, which would freeze weight limits.

Congress set weight limits at 80,000 pounds in 1982, although some states in the West and Northeast had higher limits grandfathered in, said John Runyan, executive director of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity and a proponent of HR 1799. “It was controversial at the time going to 80,000 pounds,” he said.

Critics of HR 1799 argue that higher weight limits will deteriorate the nation’s highways. Also, bridges are built to certain capacity.

“Most interstate highways can more than adequately carry the additional weight limits today,” Runyan said. “Where a state identifies a particular trouble spot, which might be a bridge or a stretch of road, this bill gives them the authority to exempt it, so that route would no longer be permissible for the heavier load,” he added.

A key part of HR 1799 is that it allows states to opt for the higher weight limit, but only if a sixth axle is added. Runyan said this is critical because it allows companies to add more weight without increasing the weight-per-tire. “You’re not creating any greater impact on any square inch of road surface and you’re running less vehicles as a result.”

Higher weight limits also would mean fewer trucks on the highway to deliver a fixed amount of goods, meaning safer roads, said Runyan.

Heavier trucks also could mean environmental and economic savings. “Companies are in a pretty tough global fight for survival right now, and they’re looking for ways to reduce costs and improve their performance records at every turn,” said Runyan. “This gives them a way to do that.”

Also, the 97,000 pound weight limit would be more in line with Mexico, Canada and much of Europe. “We really lag the rest of the world, and that has an impact on the competitiveness of American products,” Runyan said.

The coalition said it would cost $6,000-$8,000 to upgrade an existing trailer to add a sixth axle and braking capacity, but companies also could buy new equipment.

However, the coalition said that cost could apply to about 25 percent of the truck fleet because not every truck carries loads that heavy. The coalition also argues that this could spur investment in truck upgrades or trailer replacement.

However, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes “increasing weight capacity for commercial vehicles because we don’t think there is any fuel efficiency benefit and we don’t believe it’s safe,” said spokesman Norita Taylor. Instead, the group backs HR 1618, which keeps weight limits static.

The association has 158,000 members throughout the U.S., mostly people who drive and own their own trucks. The organization argues that its members would not benefit from HR 1799. “Those who are pushing for this just want to move more without paying more to the people who are hauling,” Taylor said.

Even with the sixth axle used for safety, the organization is opposed to HR 1799, partly due to the capital investments that would be placed on owner/operators and smaller trucking companies and partly because of maintenance. “It’s going to be more wear and tear on the engines,” said Taylor. “You’re still adding weight to the same engine, so there’s not going to be enough fuel efficiency to justify the added danger.”

Local trucking companies such as Tavares-based Sunstate Carriers aren’t keen on the idea of increasing the load trucks can pull because customers may take advantage of it, said Sunstate President Richard Baugh. Sunstate Carriers employs 130 workers and runs 115 trucks up along the East coast from Florida to Canada and as far west as Texas.

“This legislations wouldn’t help out us shippers to generate more business because [clients] would want us to haul more weight at the same costs,” he said.

In addition, the increased loads would cause companies like his to have to pay more operational costs, because trucks would use more fuel to haul an extra 17,000 pounds, said Baugh.

However, Matt Ubben, spokesman for the Florida Transportation Association, sees several benefits from an increased load for local trucking companies. “Allowing for additional weight basically allows for less freight movement, which saves on fuel, the time a driver is on the road and maintenance.”

Ubben has heard the argument that safety will become an issue for both the truck driver and other drivers on the road. But he stressed that many Florida trucking companies make highway safety their main priority. “We got a pretty good track record here in Florida. The number of fatalities per vehicle miles traveled is down, so we feel very good about what we’ve been able to achieve so far.”

In brief
• HR 1799, the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2009What it does: Allows a state to authorize the operation of a vehicle with a maximum gross weight of 97,000 pounds, as long as the vehicle is equipped with at least six axles, and the weight of any single axle does not exceed 20,000 pounds or the weight of any group of three or more axles does not exceed 51,000 pounds. In addition, it establishes a safe, efficient vehicle bridge infrastructure improvement program and apportions amounts from the Safe and Efficient Vehicle Trust Fund to states for eligible bridge replacement or rehabilitation projects. Versus• HR 1618, the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation ActWhat it does: Freezes the maximum truck weight limit set by Congress in 1982 at 80,000 pounds beyond the 46,000-mile-plus Interstate System to encompass the entire 161,000-mile-plus National Highway System.

To view this article in full - click here.


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