Raising Gross Weight Limits on Commercial Vehicles Proposed

A bill that was recently introduced to congress includes a raising the weight limit for commercial vehicles from 88,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds. This is an increase of 21 percent, which has many civil engineers and lawmakers worried about the impact on current infrastructure. The bill proposes that trucks be allowed to carry loads weighing up to 48 and a half tons without an overweight permit as long as they have at least six axles. Most tractor-trailer units are currently five axles. This bill is called the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act. It was introduced by Michael Michaud, a Representative from Maine. The bill has currently been delayed for a period of three years so that its effects on highway infrastructure and safety can be studied.

Support

Most of the support behind the bill is from a group known as the Coalition for Transportation Productivity. This is a group of around 200 companies including Home Depot, Hershey, Kraft and Miller Coors. These companies joined together in an effort to consolidate their products into fewer loads, reducing the transportation costs paid by each company. Lobby groups from several different states have also shown support for the bill.

These groups support the Safe and Effective Transportation Act for several reasons. One reason is the amount of freight that is hauled by commercial vehicles in the United States is expected to come close to doubling by the year 2035. This freight will add thousands more trucks to already congested highways and freeways across the country. Raising the amount of weight that each vehicle can legally haul will allow the same amount of weight to be hauled in fewer loads.

Some supporters feel that the current 80,000 pound limit is simply outdated. It has been in place since 1982, when commercial vehicles traveled about half as many miles each year as they do now. Reducing the number of trucks on the road is also likely to make the roads safer. A study that was conducted by the Department of Transportation in Wisconsin found that 90 accidents that involved tractor-trailers in Wisconsin in 2006 could have been prevented if the trucks were able to carry heavier weights with six axles.

Criticism

The main criticism of the bill is the potential impact heavier trucks will have on roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Members of the American Society of Civil Engineers feel that the nation's bridges are already not being maintained adequately and bridges will be worn out even faster if they are forced to bear heavier loads.

The bill cites that a user fee will be charged for all six axle vehicles who haul loads up to 97,000 pounds. This fee is designed to fund maintenance and repair for existing infrastructure. Critics fear that the money will be used for other purposes and that it will not be enough to offset the impact of roadways constantly being subjected to heavier loads.

Workers in the railroad industry are also opposing the bill, mostly because it will allow trucks to haul more of the heavy freight that is currently being hauled by rail. This is likely to reduce the amount of work for railroad workers and could reduce the number of workers needed.

It is unlikely that The Safe and Efficient Transportation Act will be passed in the near future, but it is something that truckers should have in mind when they are upgrading equipment. Some small business truckers are concerned that if this bill is passed they will be forced to add a sixth axle to their trucks to stay competitive in the freight hauling industry.

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