BOISE, Idaho — A provision included in a federal spending bill increasing Idaho’s maximum truck weight on interstate highways to 129,000 pounds cleared an early hurdle May 7, when it survived a vote by a House subcommittee.
Amalgamated Sugar Co. and other Idaho businesses that ship agricultural commodities say increasing the state’s interstate weight limit, now at 105,500 pounds, would significantly increase their shipping efficiency and reduce freight costs.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, inserted the language into the Fiscal Year 2015 appropriations bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. The bill is scheduled for markup — another opportunity for changes to be made — by the full House Committee on Appropriations during the week of May 19.
Surrounding states such as Nevada, Montana and Utah already have a 129,000-pound limit, and Wyoming’s limit is 117,000 pounds, forcing interstate shippers to change trucking configurations at the Idaho border.
“Idaho essentially creates a doughnut hole for weight limits,” said Julie Pipal, president and CEO of the Idaho Trucking Association. “Trucks leaving Idaho have to change their loads.”
Proponents of the change, including the Idaho Transportation Department, emphasize trucks would be fitted with additional axles, better distributing weight and improving braking ability, and the increase would lead to fewer trucks on the road.
“By ensuring that Idaho’s vehicle laws match those of its neighboring states, Idaho can more efficiently play a larger role in transferring goods without impacting safety,” Simpson said in a press release.
Railroads have historically objected to increased truck weight limits. But Alan Frew, ITD’s motor vehicle administrator, believes railroads are growing more accepting of truck weight increases due to the convenience for rail customers who also use trucks.
In 2013, ITD completed a 10-year study of 129,000-pound weight limits on several pilot routes throughout southern Idaho state highways, finding no evidence of increased road and bridge wear or elevated accident rates. The state made the pilot routes permanent and also implemented a process by which applicants can petition for increased limits on additional highway routes.
Frew said ITD staff are evaluating six applications for 129,000-pound designations on new state routes, including a few in southern Idaho proposed by Amalgamated Sugar. He believes the approval process could take about six months, though it remains untested.
Amalgamated Sugar President and CEO Vic Jaro said the state highway designations have helped his company achieve a significant freight savings, but “the real benefit will come when we have the main transfer artery, which is the interstate highways, available.”
Amalgamated needs the increased weight limits mostly for shipping sugar beets in-state for processing. Kevin Stanger, with Wada Farms in eastern Idaho, said Simpson’s legislation is also supported by the potato industry, though it wouldn’t help with some of Wada’s long-haul shipments crossing several states to the East Coast.