Increase in Trucking Interstate Weight Limits Debated

With both sides of the debate over heavier trucks readying for battle via the markup of the next federal highway bill, a U.S. House representative is proposing a middle road, according to a story on

Rep. Reid Ribble plans to introduce legislation that would increase the maximum weight of trucks using the interstate system from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds, so long as trucks have an additional sixth axle. The legislation, known as the Safe, Flexible and Efficient Trucking Act, would not regulate truck size and is not a mandate. Should it pass, it would be left to individual states to determine whether they would increase their interstate weight limits, Ribble said.

Ribble characterized it as a sort of compromise. There is nothing mandated, nothing obligatory and nothing heavier than the 91,000-pound limit that would require the government to adjust road and bridge construction. But the rail industry doesn’t it see it that way.

“What the proposed bill will do is force the American public to share the road with even heavier tractor-trailer trucks attempting to navigate through an already-congested highway system, resulting in higher taxpayer costs to repair damage to highways and bridges and at a time when our nation’s infrastructure is in dire need of repair,” said Ed Greenberg, spokesman for the American Association of Railroads, the largest U.S. rail lobby.

Ribble said the current 80,000-pound limits are putting more trucks with the absolute maximum weight on the roads: polluting the environment, decreasing motorist safety and hurting productivity in the manufacturing sector.

Ribble’s legislation comes at a time when the trucking industry is have a more and more difficult time retaining and building its workforce. Less trucks on the road would mean motor carriers would have an easier time working with a smaller workforce.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has estimated increasing truck weights would reduce logistics costs for shippers by 1.4 percent annually, yielding a significant logistics savings of $5.6 billion. Moreover, the cost of retrofitting five-axle trucks with a sixth axle is estimated by some to cost just $7,400 per trailer.

Although there have been concerns about safety with heavier trucks in the past, Ribble said, the most recent data shows that a truck equipped with six axles has equal or greater stopping power than one with 80,000 pounds and five axles.

“For me, it’s more than about just productivity,” Ribble said. “It’s about safety. It’s about fewer trucks moving more products and moving those trucks off county and state roads.”

The Coalition for Transportation Productivity threw its full support behind Ribble’s bill shortly after his announcement Thursday morning. The group of 200 of the nation’s manufacturers, shippers, carriers and allied associations called the legislation long overdue.

“Truck travel has grown 22 times faster than road capacity since the federal weight limit was last changed in 1982,” said John Runyan, executive director of CTP. “Recognizing that more than 70 percent of freight must be shipped by truck, we need to confront the highway capacity crunch now if our country is to remain competitive.”

Individual shippers that threw their support behind the bill included the American Forest and Paper Association, Anheuser-Busch, the National Association of Manufacturers, the International Dairy Foods Association and the United Fresh Produce Association.

Donna Harman, president and CEO of the AFPA, said if Ribble’s bill were to pass and applicable states were to opt for the 91,000-pound weight limits, then the number of trucks carrying forest products on American interstates would decline by 1.4 million, while the number of miles traveled would decline some 250 million.

“The safe trucking act is common sense policy that everyone can support,” said James Sembrot, senior director of transportation at Anheuser-Busch.

The American brewing company ships more than 1 million truckloads of beer and raw materials each year, Sembrot said. And because of current weight restrictions on interstates, he added, “our trucks leave the facility half empty.”

Ribble said that he intends on introducing his bill as an amendment, not attached to current transportation bills under consideration already. He also said that while he expects to see strong support from the manufacturing industry, he expects just as strong pushback from the rail industry.

For years, the railroads have successfully lobbied Congress to not increase weight limits for trucks, arguing the trucking industry doesn’t pay its fair share for wear and tear on the highways and heavier load would only exacerbate the problem.

Ribble called the rail industry’s counter a “straw man argument” and remarked that the true cause of the rail industry’s unrest is that his latest legislation has the potential to increase competition between rail and other over-the-road modes of transportation.

“This is as old as rail is and they’re going to continue to oppose anything that might affect competition in the marketplace,” he said.

Ribble acknowledged it was little consolation to the railroads, but he only expected his legislation to divert, at most, 1 percent of rail traffic to truck.

That’s still enough cargo to have a significant impact on the wear and tear of America’s already worn and torn roadways, said AAR’s Greenberg.

“I know that rail is going to oppose it,” Ribble said. “Rail opposes anything that increases competition.”