Congress can give US economy the truck it needs

Congress can give US economy the truck it needs

U.S. manufacturers are struggling with a major supply chain capacity crisis – one that is threatening not only the movement of goods, but our nation’s economic productivity.

While the U.S. is producing and shipping more goods to meet the resurgence in consumer demand, this record freight volume—combined with increasing railroad bottlenecks, tight highway lane capacity and escalating truck driver shortages—has created a perfect storm. Companies are not only struggling with the price tag associated with getting goods to market; they are often hard-pressed to get them there at all.

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Even though rail is often the first shipping choice for American manufacturers, the reality is that more than 70 percent of freight must, at some point, be shipped via truck, and that tonnage will only increase as demand grows. In fact, industry experts estimate that overall freight tonnage will increase nearly 25 percent over the next decade alone.

Our transportation network is in no shape to keep up with this growth. The U.S. population has nearly doubled since the Interstate highway system was built, and over the last 30 years, truck miles traveled have increased 20 times faster than road capacity—often with limited-to-no room for expansion. 

Fortunately, Congress has the power this fall to give our Interstate productivity a critical, yet safe, boost.

Safer, more efficient trucks that can carry 91 thousand pounds as opposed to the current 80 thousand on our highways exist, and our major trading partners already use them successfully. In Canada and Europe, many trucks are already carrying over 100 thousand pounds safely on the road. These trucks, which are the same size as typical 18-wheelers but equipped with six axles rather than five, can safely ship more goods while braking faster, handling the same, polluting less and reducing pavement wear—all this according to the U.S. DOT’s recently completed Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study.

Congress just needs to give states the power to put these better trucks to work. The Safe, Flexible and Efficient Trucking Act, known as the “Safe Trucking Act,” now pending in the House, would answer the call by giving each state the option to allow more productive, yet safe, six-axle trucks to travel on Interstate highways.

The Safe Trucking Act would responsibly alleviate the capacity crisis and create a more efficient transportation network in which U.S. manufacturers can safely use fewer truckloads, fuel and emissions to meet demand. The legislation also enables the U.S. DOT to require additional safety equipment for these trucks, creating a world-class standard for truck shipment.

The U.S. DOT has already confirmed that the Safe Trucking Act configuration complies with existing bridge weight requirements and would not cause additional strain. Still, implementation of the Safe Trucking Act is completely voluntary. Each state would retain the ability to control when and where these trucks travel.

Yet given that more than 90 percent of states already allow heavier, five-axle rigs on state and local roads, the Safe Trucking Act also presents a critical opportunity for states to transition to safer, more capable six-axle trucks which can operate on Interstate highways—the safest place for truck shipments.

Five years ago, Congress granted Maine the ability to do what the Safe Trucking Act would do on a national scale: give higher weight vehicles access to the state’s Interstate highways.  Since then, fatalities on Maine’s roads have reached their lowest levels in 70 years—a reduction which officials have attributed to this truck weight change.

It’s time for U.S. truck productivity to match that of the United Kingdom, Canada and other countries that already utilize these trucks, and with the Safe Trucking Act, we can do so in a way that empowers and respects state autonomy while making our shared roads safer.

Our transportation network is facing big challenges, and the Safe Trucking Act represents an essential part of the solution.

Ribble has represented Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District since 2011. He sits on the Foreign Affairs and the Transportation committees.