Tuesday, March 30, 2010

House Bill Seeks 21% Increase in Truck Max Highway Weight

A group of Congressional lawmakers is attempting to move legislation through Congress that would increase the federal maximum weight carried by freight trucks on interstate highways from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds, a more than 21 percent increase.

First introduced to the House in March 2009 by Maine Democrat Rep. Michael Michaud, the bill, H.R. 1799, was co-sponsored by 23 Democrats and 30 Republicans. The last action on the bill was March 30, 2009, when it was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit for discussion.

Despite almost a year of inaction, supporters in the House are now looking at attaching the proposed legislation to other "must-pass" transportation funding legislation in an effort to force passage of the new weight limits.

The bill has also found support in the Senate from Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who has said he will take up the bill after the spring recess.

Supporters of the bill argue that heavier trucks would translate into fewer trucks on the highways and thereby reduce overall diesel pollution and traffic congestion.

Bill opponents point to the safety issues behind a 21 percent increase in truck weights. Heavier trucks take longer to accelerate from a stop, longer to reach passing speeds, and according to some opponents of the bill, present problems with stopping and maneuverability while on the highway. In addition, opponents say, heavier trucks would lead to more frequent and more costly increases in highway infrastructure maintenance.

Truck drivers, according to some trade groups, seem to be squarely lined up against the bill – mainly because the last increase in federal maximum weights never translated into higher per-load wages for drivers.

Commuters also appear to be against the bill. A recent American Automobile Association survey of 3,000 members found that 90 percent of respondents opposed permitting heavier trucks on the highways.