WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 10, 2000) — Against all odds, truckers and shippers renewed a Capitol Hill campaign to allow states to raise truck weight limits to 97,000 pounds.
The effort, launched this week at a Capitol Hill meeting by Americans for Safe and Efficient Transportation, revives a piece of legislation introduced last year that would give states the authority to set the higher limits. The bill, H.R. 1667, also would require the heavier trucks to have a sixth axle at the rear of the trailer to spread the weight.
ASET, whose membership includes trucking interests as well as large shippers, is well aware of the challenge it is taking on. Higher weight limits are the “third rail” of truck safety politics, said John McQuaid, co-chair of ASET and president of the National Private Truck Council.
The concern among opponents is that heavier trucks jeopardize safety. Advocacy groups such as Citizens for Reliable and Safe highways are on record opposing any weight increase, and at this point there is limited support in Congress. In fact, the climate for change on Capitol Hill is still affected by the size and weight freeze Congress imposed in 1991, said Jim March of the Federal Highway Administration at the ASET meeting.
March also pointed to other problems that ASET will have to overcome: the current bridge formula will not allow six-axle combination, 97,000-pound vehicle, and according to U.S. Dept. of Transportation studies, the heaviest trucks do not pay their full share of highway costs.
Still, advocates for the bill are undaunted and recognize that they are embarked on a long campaign.
“Realistically, we donÕt expect to advance a bill this year,” said McQuaid. The strategy is to gather co-sponsors for next year, he said.
ASET is honing its arguments, which are centred on the increased productivity of heavier trucks and safety improvements stemming from having fewer trucks on the road. Also, the bill does not require states to raise their limits — it only permits them to, said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN, a co-sponsor of the bill.
For certain kinds of trucking operations, the productivity argument is compelling. Richard K. Riederer, CEO of Weirton Steel Corp., said the bill would reduce the number of trucks he needs from 500 to 400 a day. Besides steel, the ASET membership is gathered from the forest products, beverage, agriculture and cattle industries, as well as trucking companies that serve those industries.
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