Shipping: Heavier Loads? Good for Industry, Bad for Roads – DTN

    Individual states could decide whether to raise the maximum allowable weight for freight-shipping trucks from the current 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds under a bill introduced in the U.S. House on Sept. 10.

    U.S. Representative Reid Ribble, R-Wis., who introduced the Safe, Flexible, and Efficient (SAFE) Trucking Act, stated in a press release last week that the bill “would allow our freight shipping industry to be more efficient while creating less pavement wear and tear and improving safety on our shared roads and bridges.”

    The National Grain and Feed Association supports the bill and said in a press release that the SAFE Trucking Act would mean more efficient grain transportation by allowing trucks to carry an additional 11,000 pounds of weight on federal highways while adhering to U.S. Department of Transportation safety guidelines.

    “Federal highway truck weight limits currently are lower than most state road weight limits, and this inconsistency presents obstacles to efficient movement of U.S. grains,” said NGFA Director of Economics and Government Relations Max Fisher. “Congressman Ribble’s bill would improve this situation, taking better advantage of our Interstate highway system infrastructure while still protecting highway safety.”

    The dairy industry, in a press release, said they also welcomed the legislation. “IDFA (International Dairy Foods Association) thanks Congressman Ribble for his leadership on an issue that is vitally important to the makers and marketers of dairy products and the many other industries relying on trucks to move goods to market, as to those who share our highways with them,” said Connie Tipton, president and CEO of IDFA.

    In February 2015, the Soy Transportation Coalition (STC) published an update of an earlier 2009 report that analyzed the impact of increasing semi weight limits on federal roads and bridges from an 80,000-pound, five-axle configuration to a 97,000-pound, six-axle configuration. The STC said in their report: “If supply of trucking is not keeping pace with demand for trucking, we need to find safe and responsible ways to increase trucking capacity.”

    The study, funded by the soybean checkoff, noted that, “The impact on roads of a six-axle, 97,000-pound semi is less than a five-axle, 80,000-pound semi. Most research has found that stress to bridges depends more on the truck’s total load than the number of axles.”

    The study also noted,

    “For transporting soybeans and soy products, allowing six-axle, 97,000-pound semis will result in 1.2 million fewer truck trips, 5.5 million fewer gallons of fuel consumed, 56,000 fewer tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and between $11 million to $28 million in reduced fuel costs. Allowing six-axle, 97,000-pound semis will enable farmers to transport at minimum an additional 183 bushels of soybeans per load. By 2022, this will annually save soybean farmers 602,000 truck trips, 1.7 million gallons of fuel, and between $4 million to $8 million in reduced fuel costs.”


    In June 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released a report examining the impacts of increasing current federal truck size and weight limits. The DOT said it needs more data to determine the safety ramifications of allowing heavier trucks on the nation’s roads. Various news agencies reported that in a June 5 letter to Congress, DOT Under Secretary for Policy Peter Rogoff said the research for the study “revealed very significant data limitations that severely hampered the Federal Highway Administration’s efforts to conclusively study the effects of the size and weight of various truck configurations.”

    Rogoff added, “As such, the department believes that no changes in the relevant truck size and weight laws and regulations should be considered until these data limitations are overcome.” DOT recently stated that public comments must be submitted by Oct. 13 to be considered for inclusion in the MAP-21 Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Limits Study Report, which will be submitted to Congress. (MAP-21 is a 2012 transportation funding bill.)

    According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), “The study noted that if federal truck weights were increased to 91,000 pounds, more than 4,800 bridges would need to be strengthened or replaced because of added stress, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $1.1 billion. The DOT analyzed just 20% of the nation’s bridges for its report — the remaining 80% are probably even more vulnerable to heavier trucks.”

    The AAR added that, “In addition, because many parts of the Interstate highway system were not built for longer and heavier trucks, their widespread use could require massive new spending to strengthen or replace bridges and pavement, as well as to widen vehicle lanes and shoulders. The (AAR) on their website stated that, ‘Freight railroads support a continuation of existing truck size and weight allowances.'”

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