House rejects highway bill amendment to allow heavier trucks

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The House on Tuesday defeated an amendment to a $325 billion highway funding bill that would have let states decide whether they want to allow heavier trucks on their roads.

The amendment, from Reps. Reid RibbleReid RibblePoll: GOP has edge for open Wis. House seat Trump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote Speaker Ryan tries new Trump strategy: Ignore him MORE (R-Wis.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), David Rouzer (R-N.C.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), would allow states to decide whether they want to increase a current limit of 80,000 pounds for cargo trucks to 91,000 pounds. 

Proponents wanted to attach it to the highway bill in an attempt to end a bitter fight over truck weights that has raged for years in Washington. The proposal was rejected 187-236 in a House floor vote.

Supporters of the amendment emphasized that the proposal would only give states the option — not a mandate — to allow the heavier truck weights in order to carry more cargo.

"We are facing a capacity crunch in the United States today," Ribble said.

But lawmakers of both parties questioned the safety of permitting heavier trucks, even if they are equipped with a sixth axle.

Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), whose urban district includes Boston, noted that many metropolitan commuters use interstates alongside the "humongously long trucks."

"Now, if you want your moms and dads and kids to be driving next to them, that's your prerogative in your state. I don't want them in my state," Capuano said.

Rep. Lou BarlettaLou BarlettaSigns of change from Trump Poor polling highlights Trump challenges in swing states Trump aims to win over GOP with Pence pick MORE (R-Pa.), meanwhile, warned that structurally deficient roads and bridges might not be able to handle the trucks' extra weight.

"It doesn't matter how many axles are on that truck," Barletta said.

The fight over truck weight has percolated in Washington for years. 

Trucking companies have pushed to increase the weight limit in several pieces of transportation-related legislation, 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, arguing that heavier loads would make trucks more likely to crash. They applauded lawmakers for rejecting the highway bill amendment on Tuesday evening, calling the vote against the proposal "a resounding rejection of bogus arguments by the trucking and shipping industry that heavier trucks would be safer trucks.

"Members of the House listened to the American public, law enforcement, truck drivers, trucking companies, rail interests, rail labor, safety groups and families of truck crash victims," the Washington, D.C-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said in a statement after the vote. 

"This was a bipartisan vote for common sense and safer highways," the road safety group continued. "Truck crash deaths and injuries have been climbing for the past five years.  This vote was a sign that Congress stands with the public in their opposition to assaults on truck safety."

Supporters of the proposal to allow states to approve heavier trucks had argued that increasing the weight limit for cargo would boost U.S. shipping productivity. 

"In the agriculture and food industries, our farms and businesses are growing and making products more resourcefully, but outdated federal transportation rules force trucks to leave the farm and our plants when they are partly empty," a group of 70 agriculture organizations wrote in a letter to Congress on behalf of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP), which was pushing for the proposed truck weight increase. 

"By giving states the option to raise the federal gross vehicle weight limit from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds for trucks equipped with six axles rather than the typical five, the SAFE Trucking Act would safely modernize truck shipments on Interstate highways by reducing the number of trucks needed to move our commodities and products through better utilization of existing capacity,” the group's letter continued.  

Railroad groups, which stood to lose business if more cargo could be moved on trucks, also sided with safety groups in opposing the move to increase truck weight limits. 

"The added truck weight will further destroy precious national infrastructure and cost taxpayers dearly,” Association of American Railroads President Ed Hamberger said in a statement Tuesday. 

"Allowing trucks to be 14 percent heavier would be a fundamental change to national policy," he continued. "Lawmakers should strike this amendment before sending a final highway bill to the White House for the President’s signature.”

The House is expected to finish consideration of the highway bill Thursday once it completes work on dozens of amendments. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced on the floor Tuesday evening that members should expect a late night of voting Wednesday.

-Updated at 11:24 p.m.