Report From CABT on Bigger Truck Campaign

By Bill Gibb, President – CABT

Over the next few months, the truck size and weight debate is expected to heat up in Congress as bigger-truck proponents attempt to insert their proposals into the transportation reauthorization bill process before MAP-21 expires at the end of May, or even afterward during the appropriations process.

Heavy-truck interests are continuing to push for an increase in the federal gross vehicle weight limit from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds. At the same time, FedEx and other less-than-truckload (LTL) trucking companies are lobbying Members of Congress to require every state to permit even longer double-trailer trucks, often referred to as “Twin 33s,” that are 17 feet longer than standard 53-foot trucks. There is also a group of state legislators and other interests from several western states requesting that Congress expands the operation of long combination vehicles (LCVs).

The other opportunity likely to be exploited by bigger-truck proponents is during the appropriations process. As it developed last year, Congress grandfathered in existing heavy truck weight limits for specific state routes that could become Interstates in Mississippi, Wisconsin and Kentucky. This year, special exemptions could affect Idaho—where Sen. Crapo (R-Idaho) recently sponsored a bill that would allow for LCV expansion on the state’s Interstate highways—or it could affect particular commodities. If a Twin 33s amendment is not dealt with during the transportation reauthorization process mentioned above, proponents will surely attempt to insert it during the appropriations process.

While these proposals are debated in Congress, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) study on truck size and weight is still underway and not expected to be released until early summer. One of the subject areas receiving increased attention is the impact of bigger trucks on local roads and bridges. First highlighted by Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) and 44 other Members of Congress in a 2013 letter to DOT Secretary Foxx, the study as it is currently designed inadequately addresses these local impacts because it is limiting its analysis to the Interstates and other major highways—less than 5 percent of the 4 million miles of U.S. public roads. The Department is overlooking the other 95 percent of all public roads nationwide. These local roads are typically older, in worse condition, and more dangerous than the major highways being studied. In fact, The Road Information Program (TRIP) found in a 2014 report that the nation’s rural roads have a 300-percent higher fatality rate than all other roads, and also that 55 percent of these roads are either in poor or mediocre/fair condition. Considering that one-third of all large-truck miles and the majority of automobile miles are traveled on local roads, they are at the very intersection of significant large-truck activity and where constituents live and work, and must be much more than an afterthought as the DOT conducts its study.

Bigger-truck proponents will stop at nothing to push their legislative proposals though Congress. With your help, alongside the coordinated grassroots network and continued advocacy efforts opposing bigger trucks on Capitol Hill, we will defeat bigger-truck legislation.