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Focus: Transportation Management

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From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

Feb. 6, 2012


Logistics News: Legislation to Allow Heavier Trucks Dismissed from Highway Bill, in Blow to Shippers


Coalition for Transportation Productivity Vows to Fight On; Legislators Cite Safety, Infrastructure Damage and Job Concerns


SCDigest Editorial Staff


To the surprise of many, the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure voted on a bi-partisan basis to exclude new legislation that would have raised total truck weights on federal highways from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds from the new highway funding bill. Despite that setback, many in the industry applauded the passage by the committee of the larger transportation funding measure.

SCDigest Says:

While the amount that capacity that could actually be used on any given shipment or in aggregate would vary, many believe the overall increase in truck productivity would rise by as much as 10% or more from the change.
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By a vote of 33 to 20, the committee voted to include the measure to ncrease truck weights in a series of trucking related productivity changes that will be part of a three-year study.

“It really is ‘Groundhog Day’ today because this very committee asked the Transportation Research Board to study this same issue back in 1998, and the Board strongly endorsed truck weight reform in its Special Report 267, issued in 2002,” John Runyan, executive director of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP), an industry group formed in 2008 specifically to push the proposed weight change into law. “There is no need to commit further study to this truck weight proposal. Voluminous academic research and practical on-the-ground experience has proven that states should have the option to put more productive, six-axle trucks on interstates. It is a safe and effective way to boost highway efficiency and productivity without increasing truck size or making trucks ‘bigger’ in any way.”

In recent months, it appeared like the Safe and Efficient Trucking Act (SETA) would be enacted, given strong bi-partisan support in both Houses. The SETA bill in the House was mirrored by SB 747 in the Senate.

But railroad industry interests, opposed to any changes that would lead to relative advantage gains for the trucking industry, lobbied fiercely against the bill, mostly arguing that such a change would not be safe for regular drivers, and lead to damage to infrastructure such as bridges, due to the higher weights. Consumer groups also opposed the bill on safety concerns.

The CTP and others argued that data from Europe and states such as Vermont that have rules in place allowing the heavier trucks showed no increase in accidents stemming from the change. The adding of a sixth axle provides the same breaking capacity as today's trucks, and the increase in productivity would naturally take trucks of the road, further reducing accidents and infrastructure damage overall, according to the CTP.

The sixth axle would add about 3,000 pounds to a Class 8 truck, meaning the increase in weight capacity would rise about 14,000 pounds, or some 31% additional capacity for loads that weigh out before the cube out. While the amount that capacity that could actually be used on any given shipment or in aggregate would vary, many believe the overall increase in truck productivity would rise by as much as 10% or more from the change.

Legislators Cite Jobs, Safety, Damage

After a debate that defied party lines, a bipartisan amendment from Reps. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) and Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) to require a study before passing the SETA language was approved on Thursday, ending SETA hopes for now. However, the committee did pass the full highway funding bill, which will now move on to the full House.

(Transportation Management Article Continued Below)




“Given the threat to safety, the cost to our transportation system and the opposition of the American people, it makes no sense to allow heavier trucks on the road,” Costello said.

“America’s infrastructure is already crumbling,” Barletta said. “I believe it’s irresponsible for us to add these extra weights.”

In comments, some legislators also cited concerns relative to job losses that might come from the increased productivity - a concern that seems out of place during the current and long-term concerns about a large shortage of truck drivers. The Teamsters made a strong presence in the Capitol opposing the bill.

“The railroad industry has run a multimillion dollar propaganda campaign for several years anticipating this fight,” said James Burnley, a former U.S. transportation secretary and now trucking-industry lobbyist. “It is paid for and orchestrated by the railroad industry for purely cynical and competitive reasons.”

Sean McNally, a spokesperson for the American Trucking Associations, said that “There have already been dozens and dozens of studies” showing increasing truck productivity reduces the number of miles driven by trucks," saying the change would “not only reduce accident risk, congestion and emissions, but [would] also ultimately save money in reduced highway maintenance costs.”

The CTP decided some time ago to try to get the SETA language inserted into the long overdue American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, the new highway finding bill that is severasl years overdue, rather than have it passed as separate legislation. Now it appears it may have to go that route in the end anyways - though the CTP hopes to add the language back in during the Highway bill's consideration in the full House.

Where will it go from here?

“While we are very disappointed in the outcome, our effort is far from over,” added the CTP's Runyan. “In less than three years, CTP has grown into a strong, national organization with more than 200 members committed to truck weight reform. We intend to redouble our efforts and move forward. We will be working with members of Congress to introduce a significant amendment during consideration of the Highway Bill on the house floor.”


What do you think of this turn of events relative to the SETA act? Do you see this as a real blow to shippers, or not so much? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.

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