The debate over whether to raise the weight limits for commercial trucks on federal interstate highways is heating up after Maine and Vermont passed legislation last week allowing trucks exceeding the 40-ton limit on its interstates for the next 20 years.
Advocates of the weight increase want to see the limit increased on a national scale so that trucks weighing up to 50 tons can use the interstates, rather than being forced onto two-lane state highways with more liberal restrictions. Trucks that weigh more than 80,000 pounds are allowed to travel on federal highways in about 20 states now, creating a patchwork of inconsistent regulations stretching back to the creation of the federal interstate system in 1956 and an ongoing effort to balance federal mandates with state federalism.
Those in favor of the weight increase, including the trucking industry, argue that heavier loads mean fewer trucks, which translates to less emissions and environmental pollution, increased highway safety, reduced costs, and less driver stress.
Critics, however, say the interstates will become less safe because the heavier the truck, the more difficult it is to control and stop. Opponents also argue that heavier trucks will put excessive stress on the country’s highways and bridges, especially at a time when so much of the national infrastructure is aging and in need of repair. So, while trucking companies save money, the tax payer is stuck with a high repair bill.
According to the Associated Press, “A recent study in Illinois concluded that raising the truck weight limit from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds on federal highways would cause an additional $162 million in damages annually to federal highways there …”
Unlike most issues that pit business interests against safety and environmental concerns, the debate over whether to permit heavier trucks on U.S. highways is not a predictably partisan one. Maine Representative Michael Michaud, a Democrat, authored a bill called the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act that would allow six-axle trucks weighing 48.5 tons on U.S. interstates while allowing states to permit even heavier trucks.
According to the Associated Press, Rep. Michaud “said he was impressed by an Alabama business owner’s testimony in Congress a few years ago that allowing heavier trucks on the roads would save him $73,000 a week in fuel costs, reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 130,000 pounds a week and reduce the number of his trucks on the road from 600 to 450.”
Although the trucking industry advocates for upping the weight restrictions, the attitude amongst truckers is not all positive. On The Trucker’s Facebook page, a post about the subject drew mostly negative comments from truck drivers.
“Bigger loads means less loads and less drivers. That’s why trucking companies are interested,” said one commenter.