Congress considering letting states raise truck weight limits

Updated Mar 4, 2013

oversizedFor the fifth consecutive year, Congress is considering legislation to allow states to increase truck weights on Interstates to 97,000 pounds.

On Feb. 12, Rep. Mike Michaud introduced the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act or H.R. 612. The next day, the Maine Democrat’s bill was referred to committee with 10 co-sponsors.

Allowing the higher weight also requires these heavier tractor-trailers have a sixth axle, which would decrease per-tire weight. Proponents say this would equalize braking capacity and stopping distance of heavier trucks with trucks weighing less than 80,000 pounds.

In letters sent to every House member, the Owner-Operator Operator Independent Drivers Association argued against the legislation, while the American Trucking Associations outlined its support.

OOIDA said the change would negatively impact equipment costs and safety.

“While proponents talk about savings from heavier trucks, for the small business truckers that make up more than 90 percent of the trucking industry, heavier trucks only mean higher fuel, repair, and equipment costs, including the likelihood of spending tens of thousands of dollars on new trailers designed to haul the heavier weight simply to remain competitive,” the association wrote.

The House transportation committee rejected a similar measure included in the omnibus highway bill Congress approved last July. Instead, it passed an amendment requiring the Department of Transportation to conduct a comprehensive truck size and weight study, OOIDA noted.

Conversely, the ATA asserted numerous studies indicated the change would not decrease safety. The measure also would save fuel while reducing emissions and congestion.

Additionally, trucks operating above federal limits have used highways for decades in states where grandfather clauses exist. But states lacking these clauses force trucks exceeding the federal limit off Interstates and onto roads with lower safety and construction quality, the ATA wrote.

The bill also would make permanent Maine’s pilot program, which allows 100,000 pounds trucks to use Maine’s entire Interstate system. Before the program, this only was authorized on the Maine Turnpike and from its southerly terminus to the New Hampshire line.