If you are a motorist you should be aware that there is advocacy out and about to advance increased truck weight limits from the current 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds. That’s a 21.25 percent weight increase.
In “Tracks vs. Trucks: Industry groups battle over highway weight limits,” in the May/June 2015 Spudman magazine issue, contributing writer Jimmy Hancock posits: “Legislation to increase truck weight limits on (sic) has been gaining traction in Congress despite the best lobbying efforts of U.S. railroads.
“John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council, believes the need for a decision on the increased weight limits is reaching a tipping point and he believes it may just tip in his industry’s favor.”
“Keeling represents a group that has long been in favor of increasing truck weight limits from the long-standing cap of 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds.”
So, what will increasing the truck weight by 8.5 tons (17,000 pounds) involve?
“Advocates for the increased truck weight limits point out that the additional 17,000 pounds will be hauled by a trailer with an additional axle and that the additional axle will decrease the wear trucks have on roads and the change will lead to safer conditions because there will be fewer trucks on the road,” Hancock explained.
In theory that seems logical. Also, fewer trucks plying roadways should mean decreased diesel emissions. With the additional axle, load distribution of weight inside the trailer should be more evenly spread out among the axles to better handle loads and, theoretically, that should result in less roadway wear-and-tear.
“The additional 17,000 pounds would be a huge cost savings, providing at minimum a 15 percent immediate increase to the load each truck could haul, Keeling said. He said that using rail services works for many industries, but the produce industry, especially fresh produce, isn’t one of them,” the article author wrote.
So how is approval of the higher-capacity truck trailers likely to affect railway haulage? Or will it affect it at all?
According to Hancock, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) states in its own document with a publication date of May 2014, “its position on truck weight limit increases,” and “also touches on the financial impact the weight increase would have on the rail industry.
“The report states that increased truck weight limits would not lead to a sharp decline in the number of trucks on the roads because it would lead to an increase in the amount of goods shipped via trucks and a decline in the amount of products shipped by railroad. That decrease will lead to a decline in revenue and the ability for railroad companies to maintain their infrastructure,” Hancock wrote.
Also according to the article’s author, the AAR cites a U.S. Department of Transportation document: the “2000 Highway Cost Allocation Study.” In that, it was determined that “an 80,000-pound truck pays just 80 percent of its cost responsibility while a 97,000-pound truck pays as little as 50 percent of the wear and tear it causes.”
Meanwhile, Hancock expressed that the AAR has concerns about the many existing “structurally deficient” bridges and with “a highway infrastructure that was not constructed with 97,000-pound trucks in consideration.”
What this all seems to be about is improving truck efficiency. But, it will come with an attached cost, obviously. Logic has it those trailers that are capable of handling the additional weight will cost more than those that currently do not have that extra cargo-handling capacity. Not only will the trailers have an additional axle – which adds to the cost, presumably – but braking systems will, again, theoretically, need to be beefed up to efficiently and effectively slow and ultimately bring these big rigs to a stop whether on level surface or in going downgrade. Not every trucking interest will want to jump on board the heftier truck trailer bandwagon nor will every truck operation be able to afford to.
Add to this that currently, America’s highways, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, have a congestion rate of 42 percent plus the ASCE in 2013 gave the nation’s roads a grade of D. This was up from a grade of D- in 2009. Not a marked improvement by any measure, but an improvement, nevertheless.
“[Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Public Relations Director Norita Taylor] doesn’t perceive Congress making a decision to increase truck weight limits in the near future for one simple reason – the difficulty the legislators are already having in passing any kind of existing highway bill because of all the other issues within it,” Hancock offered. “She believes any increase in weight would be detrimental.”
It seems a truck weight limit increase at this time is anything but a foregone conclusion.
The main source for this story:
Jimmy Hancock, “Tracks vs. Trucks: Industry groups battle over highway weight limits,” Spudman, May/June 2015, pp. 20-22.
Image (upper): William Grimes