I-17 closure this weekend | Rates, financing costs dent trucking conditions

Trucking news and briefs for Thursday, May 16, 2024:

Trucking conditions hit 6-month low in March

FTR’s Trucking Conditions Index fell in March to -7.25 -- the most negative reading since September 2023. That’s down from February’s reading of -5.31.

FTR reported that highly unfavorable freight rates were the principal headwind as the market remained soft for trucking companies. Financing costs also were a significant negative factor in the TCI, while other contributors to the index were generally stable.

FTR Trucking Conditions Index March 2024FTR reported that trucking conditions in March were the worst since August and September 2023.FTR

[Related: Spot rates following fuel prices down, but Roadcheck rebound expected]

“Rates had been a slightly less negative factor for carriers recently, so March might prove to be an outlier in what we expect will be a gradually improving environment for trucking companies,” said Avery Vise, FTR’s vice president of trucking. “However, we are not forecasting that either freight rates or overall market conditions will be favorable for carriers until early next year. Freight volume improvement and capacity rightsizing are progressing only incrementally, and we do not see anything on the horizon that clearly will change those dynamics.”

Vise noted that FTR is watching the cost of commercial auto insurance, which saw increases in premiums over the past year after some stability in years prior. “Continued increases might become a catalyst for accelerated carrier failures, which could yield a tighter market a bit earlier than we are forecasting,” he said.

[Related: Who is hauling all the cheap freight -- and why?]

I-17 closure planned this weekend

A busy stretch of northbound I-17 in north Phoenix is scheduled to be closed this weekend, May 17-20, for pavement improvement work, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Drivers should allow extra travel time and stay on the designated detour route, which uses the frontage road, while northbound I-17 is closed between Loop 303 and State Route 74 from 10 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday.

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Additionally, all traffic on eastbound Loop 303 will be directed to southbound I-17 to allow northbound detour traffic to freely flow through the intersection.

ADOT is advising drivers to not use local streets -- including Sonoran Desert Drive and North Valley Parkway -- as alternate routes, which is a recipe for longer delays and inconvenience for all. Using the frontage road, which offers two travel lanes, is safer for drivers and for those living nearby, as well as being the most efficient route through the area, ADOT noted.

Crews are continuing a much-needed project to improve the ride on I-17, ADOT said, by removing a top layer of older, worn asphalt pavement, before advancing to work to smooth the remaining concrete surface through a process called diamond grinding. 

While ADOT often can complete work without closing all lanes of a freeway, these closures are needed for crews to safely and effectively remove the surface asphalt and clear as much dust and debris as possible before the stretch reopens to traffic.

[Related: No more trucks stuck in Vermont's infamous 'Smugglers' Notch'?

Kenworth sets production schedule for Cummins X15N nat-gas-equipped trucks

Kenworth will begin production of Kenworth T680 and T880 models specified with the new Cummins X15N natural gas engine in the third quarter of 2024, the company announced this week.

The Cummins X15N, powered by Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) or Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), delivers diesel-like power, range, and performance, the company said, making it appealing for short, regional, and long-haul operations. The X15N produces between 400-500 hp with up to 1,850 lb.-ft. of torque and is compatible with Eaton Cummins Endurant and Allison Transmissions. 

Kenworth also noted the Cummins X15N meets stringent EPA emission requirements and CARB 2024 Low NOx standards and features up to a 10% improvement in fuel economy over Cummins’ 12-liter natural gas engine with similar rating and duty cycle.

[Related: Cummins set to debut 15-liter natural gas engine]

Kenworth is the first major truck manufacturer to offer an engine that meets CARB’s NOx emission standards, the company said. 

“We’re thrilled to soon begin production of Kenworth trucks with the Cummins X15N natural gas engine,” said Kevin Haygood, Kenworth assistant general manager for sales and marketing. “This new engine offering will be a great alternative solution for Kenworth customers seeking to reduce emissions in applications that require the power and performance they’re accustomed to with diesel engines.” 

“We’re pleased to partner with Kenworth and Paccar to deliver the industry’s first trucks with this new 15-liter natural gas engine,” added José Samperio, Cummins vice president and general manager for North America. “The X15N delivers the performance, durability, and power required in a variety of heavy-duty and vocational applications and is an excellent alternative for fleets looking to significantly reduce their carbon footprint.”

With the Cummins X15N, like with all natural gas-powered Kenworth trucks, customers can select factory frame drilling options for back of cab Cummins Clean Fuel Technologies or Hexagon Agility CNG/RNG fuel systems. Additional non-factory fuel systems are available to ensure flexibility for any application or configuration of the natural gas fuel system, Kenworth said, including rail mounted and body mounted fuel storage.

Back of cab natural gas fuel delivery systems can deliver up to a 175-diesel gallon equivalent (DGE), making the X15N an efficient diesel alternative for customers that require longer range and power from their engine, the company said.

[Related: Shell rolls out Starship 3.0 with Cummins' new X15N natural gas engine]

Driver honored for helping severely injured fellow trucker

Devin Rhinehardt, a Maverick Transportation truck driver out of Twinsburg, Ohio, has been named a Highway Angel by the Truckload Carriers Association for helping a fellow trucker who was seriously injured.

Devin RhinehardtDevin RhinehardtOn April 2 around 2:30 p.m. in Silver Grove, Kentucky, Reinhardt was picking up his load from a customer site when another driver walked in the office asking for someone to call an ambulance.

“I turn around and I see blood just gushing out of his arm,” Rhinehardt said, who immediately called 911. “There was blood all over his arm, all over his chest -- he was very badly injured.”

The injured man had slipped and fallen and suffered a severely lacerated wrist. Once he knew help was on the way, Rhinehardt ran out to the guard station to notify security that emergency vehicles were en route. When the ambulance arrived, he led emergency staff over to the injured man. Looking back, Rhinehardt was glad he stepped up to help.

“I immediately realized that he was bleeding really bad -- I wasn’t just gonna sit there and watch the man die,” Rhinehardt said.

Feedback from the hospital was that his quick actions likely saved him from bleeding out on the way to the hospital.

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