By Keith Laing - 09/10/15 03:33 PM EDT
A House Republican lawmaker has filed legislation that would allow states to decide whether they want to allow heavier trucks on their roads in an attempt to end a bitter fight over truck weights that has raged for years in Washington.
The measure, from Rep. Reid RibbleReid RibbleSanders-linked group endorses downballot Dems Super-PAC begins M effort to help House GOP Saving the Boomer's Social Security MORE (R-Wis.), would allow states to decide whether they want to increase a current limit of 80,000 pounds for cargo trucks to 91,000 pounds, which is the level being sought by the trucking industry.
Ribble said Thursday that allowing states to decide for themselves would end a standoff between truck companies and safety advocates that has intensified as lawmakers have sought to include provisions about the industry in a highway bill being crafted by Congress.
"The U.S. population has almost doubled since our Interstate highway system was built, and demand for freight shipping is only going up," he continued. "The SAFE Trucking Act will help us safely move more of the things Americans want with fewer trucks taking up space on the road, and it is based on data to ensure that truck stopping times and pavement wear are as good or better than our current trucks. When we can increase efficiency, decrease traffic, and make everyone safer in the process, that is a win, and the SAFE Trucking Act is able to help us achieve all these objectives."
The trucking industry has pushed to increase the weight limit for years, arguing that it would increase the amount of cargo that can be shipped without requiring drivers to work extra hours.
Safety advocates have sought to block the increase — and limit the number of hours truckers can drive — arguing that heavier loads would make trucks more likely to crash.
“Driving on our highways is dangerous enough. We don’t need to make it riskier by introducing bigger trucks to the road,” Coalition Against Bigger Trucks spokesman Donald Smith, who is also a New York state sheriff, said in a statement.
“The safety and protection of our residents is always my top goal and priority," Smith continued. "It’s important for lawmakers in Washington to hear from the law enforcement community about the dangers of longer and heavier trucks.”
Trucking groups said increasing the weight limit would boost productivity among cargo shippers.
“Truck travel has grown 22 times faster than road capacity since the federal weight limit was last changed in 1982,” Coalition for Transportation Productivity Executive Director John Runyan.
“Recognizing that more than 70 percent of freight must be shipped by truck, we need to confront the highway capacity crunch now if our country is to remain competitive," Runyan continued. "The Safe Trucking Act safely improves the productivity of truck shipments so we can decrease the truckloads necessary to meet demand and make our entire transportation network more efficient.”
Trucking regulations have become controversial after a high-profile accident involving comedian Tracy Morgan, who was severely injured in a crash involving a tractor-trailer.
Reid's office said his measure would require states that choose to increase the truck weight limit to enforce a requirement that truck companies add an extra axle to their heavier vehicles.
"In order to ensure that these heavier trucks maintain the same or better stopping distance and pavement wear, they would also be required to have a sixth axle, up from the current five," Reid's office said. "Importantly, U.S. DOT has indicated that this configuration would be compliant with the existing federal bridge formula."
Railroad groups, which stand to lose business if more cargo can be moved on trucks, sided with safety groups in opposing the move to increase truck weight limits.
“What the proposed bill will do is force the American public to share the road with even heavier tractor-trailer trucks attempting to navigate through an already congested highway system, resulting in higher taxpayer costs to repair damage to highways and bridges and at a time when our nation’s infrastructure is in dire need of repair," the Association of American Railroads said in a statement.
"Studies show that allowing heavier trucks would divert goods from moving on privately-funded and more environmentally-friendly trains, adding further stress to the nation’s publicly-funded infrastructure," the railroad groups continued. "Any shift of freight to heavier trucks has an environmental downside as trains are, on average, four-times more fuel efficient than trucks and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 75 percent.”