Groups spar over heavier truck proposal
Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa joined Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), safety advocates and family members of highway accident victims at a press conference on May 3 to endorse the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act, legislation that would restrict the size and weight of commercial trucks on U.S. highways.
SHIPA also would extend the freeze on truck size and weight limits on the interstate system to also apply to the National Highway System. The bill’s supporters, which include the Association of American Railroads, argue that large trucks are more dangerous to drive and damage highways and bridges, and that heavier trucks only will accelerate the wear and tear of the nation’s aging infrastructure.
“Heavier and longer trucks mean greater stopping distances and shorter reaction times,” Hoffa said. “And the reality is that our highways and bridges are not equipped to handle the increased weight and size of these trucks.”
The Teamsters point to a recent nationwide poll that found that 89 percent of the general public strongly opposes larger trucks. The union also notes that half of the nation’s bridges are more than 40 years old, with one in four structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
The American Trucking Associations, which supports competing legislation that would allow states to increase weight limits on interstate highways, responded. “In the two years since ATA unveiled its 18-point safety agenda, a comprehensive approach to addressing both primary and secondary causes of highway crashes, these alleged ‘safety’ groups have not made a serious proposal to address trucking safety,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer. “Their fix is to arbitrarily cut working hours to advance labor’s agenda, and further restrict truck size and weight to advance the railroad’s agenda.”
The Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2011 (S. 747) was introduced to the U.S. Senate on April 6. SETA, sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), with co-sponsors Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), would give any state the option to allow semi-trucks weighing up to 97,000 pounds access to its interstate highways, provided owners equip trucks with a sixth axle to preserve braking distances and pavement wear patterns, and agree to pay a supplemental user fee.
An identical bill, H.R. 763, introduced Feb. 17 in the House by Representatives by Reps. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) and Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), has 27 co-sponsors.
Patricia Reilly, AAR vice president of communications, said that heavy trucks don’t pay their full share of damage to the nation’s highways, costing American taxpayers billions of dollars each year for pothole and bridge repairs. “Now isn’t the time to increase the infrastructure subsidy enjoyed by trucks, which in turn increases the cost burden on taxpayers,” she said.
The additional cost of repairing bridge damage alone caused by raising truck size 20 percent could be as much as $65 billion, Reilly said. “