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USA Studying BIGGER Trucks

On January 31st, Representative John Mica (R-Florida), chairman of the US House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, formally unveiled a five-year, $260 billion surface transportation bill — dubbed the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012. And just when it seemed that ‘smaller and lighter’ were well on the way to becoming the new ‘BIG’ for all modes of transportation—planes, trains (light rail), and automobiles — this bill proposed an increase in the federally regulated weight limit for tractor-trailer trucks on US interstate highways from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds (approximately 44,000 kilograms). And in some cases, the new limits extended to allowing 126,000-pound trucks (approximately 57,200 kilograms) special permits to run on 25-mile segments of an interstate.

The proposed legislation also allows the largest rigs, now comprising two and sometimes three trailers, to increase in length by as much as 10 feet (3+ meters), bringing their total length to over 100 feet. As one news release described it, sharing the road with such proposed new ‘bigger’ trucks would be like the sharing the road with a Boeing 737 – minus the wings of course!

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee wasted no time, however, in voting down these measures on February 2nd, instead of adopting an amendment calling for a study of the effects of bigger trucks on safety and infrastructure.

Sean McNally, spokesman for American Trucking Associations was disappointed the amendment deferring the weight change had passed saying, “… Dozens and dozens of studies … show increasing truck productivity reduces truck miles traveled, which not only reduces accident risk, congestion and emissions but also … ultimately [saves] money in reduced highway maintenance costs.” The Coalition for Transportation Productivity, another leading proponent of these increased limits said heavier trucks don’t create safety issues so long as states make sure to require the trucks to have a sixth axle.

According to 2010 statistics from the Truck Safety Coalition, truck crash fatalities have counter-trended increasing 9% to 3,675. Opponents of the proposed legislation say having even bigger trucks on the roads would increase the number of fatalities because bigger trucks take longer to stop and their crashes are even more destructive. “If there was ever a recipe for disaster, this is it,” said Senator Frank Lautenberg, (D-New Jersey), chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation.

Opponents also say bigger trucks would put further stress on already deteriorating roads and bridges. “At a time when we are seriously under-investing in the nation’s transportation infrastructure, allowing bigger and heavier trucks on our roads and bridges is a step in the wrong direction,” said Jill Ingrassia, AAA managing director of government relations and traffic safety advocacy.

Railroads, labor, and highway safety groups also oppose the proposed increases. 
“Americans don’t want 97,000-pound trucks or huge multi-trailers up to 120 feet long on our nation’s highways,” said Ed Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads. “Nor is it fair that even more of the public’s tax dollars will be used to pay for the road and bridge damage inflicted by massive trucks.”

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