For the past several years, a considerable amount of research has been conducted on the probable impact of larger trucks on the nation's highway system. All the results have been positive, and it has been clearly demonstrated that the addition of a sixth axle would enable a truck to carry a heavier load with no negative impact on safety, fuel costs, the environment, or highway infrastructure. Last year, John Mica, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, included in the new transportation funding bill a provision allowing the states to increase maximum weights from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds for trucks with a sixth axle.
Unfortunately, this provision did not make the final cut when the bill was passed; and instead, the new legislation, known as MAP-21, directed the Secretary of Transportation to conduct still another study with a report due to Congress in two years.
The first public information session was held last Wednesday, with three additional sessions planned. Once again the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association stepped forward to object and this time used the recent collapse of a bridge on Interstate 5 in Washington State as ammunition for their argument (even though it is pretty clear the bridge collapsed because a truck struck the overhead structure). More objections are sure to follow.
In the meantime, Senator Frank Lautenberg has introduced legislation that would extend the current truck weight limits to the entire 220,000 mile national highway system. If passed, this bill would of course preclude the 97,000 pound loads. The ATA objects to this legislation, and the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, a proponent of larger trucks, blames the railroad lobby, accusing them of waging war on truck productivity. Other organizations support the bill, but on the surface it appears that most of the supporters ignore the sixth axle which is a key factor in assuring the trucks would have no negative impact.
Considering the confusion and controversy that is sure to follow, as well as the lack of urgency we often see in Congress and the DOT, I am afraid it will be a long time before we see these more efficient trucks on the highways – if ever.
Footnote: Unfortunately, on June 3, Senator Lautenberg passed away. Presumably, his legislation will move forward under the auspices of the co-sponsors of the bill, Senators Menendez, Feinstein, and McCaskill.