Time Running Out on Truck Weight Limit Pilot

December 12, 2010

The Obama administration has made trucking efficiency one of the government's priorities. A pilot program adopted in Maine and Vermont allowed for weight limits to be increased from 80,000 to 100,000 pounds for interstate commerce. The bad news is that the legislation allowing for this to happen is set to end on December 18th unless the Senate votes to extend the scheme.

The legislation cleared the House of Representatives (that's where the Congressmen sit) last week, but now the Senate has to agree too. With a lame duck Democratic president and a divided Congress, there is no guarantee that the extension is going to be passed. Another issue is a foul-up in the wording of the legislation which didn't make it clear that the new law was to be permanent.

Increasing trucking weight limits is a key element in boosting trucking productivity, and while the states of Maine and Vermont support the measure, there has been industry support too. There are also other states which have exemptions to the 80,000 pound weight limits, but this is due to grandfathering of pre-existing rules rather than a blanket federal provision. The American Trucking Association also supports the increased weight limits and is looking for expansion of the pilot to other states besides the initial two.

This does not mean that the new weight limits do not have their detractors. The Coalition Against Bigger Trucks opposes the new increases because it affects safety (in their opinion) and will lead to faster and more widespread damage to the highways from heavier trucks and semi-trailers.

Overall, support for increased weight limits has been gaining momentum in the last few years. Increasing productivity is just one reason, but there is also a safety argument too as greater loads per truck mean fewer trucks on the road. That also means fewer drivers needed and a knock on effect on work availability for truckers out there. The environmental lobby should be happier with increased truck weight limits because fewer trucks mean less damage to the environment, but we'll have to see what they have to say in due course.

The bottom line: the sponsor of the original bill, Senator Susan Collins (ME-R) is not hopeful that the extension will be passable, or if it is, the law will not be in a form which allows for the increase in load weight.

A good article on the situation can be found at the Fleet Owner blog by Bryan Straight.

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