Shippers save millions during pilot project, due to reduced fuel use
By JOHN O'CONNELL
BOISE, Idaho -- Shipping and commodity groups are backing a bill in the Idaho Legislature that would make permanent an expiring 10-year pilot project increasing truck weight limits on specified southern Idaho state routes.
Idaho law restricts gross vehicle weight on state highways to 105,500 pounds, except on the pilot project routes, where the limit is 129,000 pounds. The surrounding states of Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Nevada also have 129,000-pound limits.
The pilot project began in 2003 with 16 specified routes. Another 19 routes were added in 2007. According to the Idaho Transportation Department, 264,169 pilot project trips were made between fiscal years 2004 and 2012. Sugar beets, hay and feed were the main agricultural commodities hauled.
A coalition of about 50 businesses and organizations has been lobbying for the legislation, SB1064. Proponents of the bill, as well as a second bill introduced to facilitate increased weight limits on additional routes in northern Idaho and elsewhere, note 129,000-pound trucks must have three additional axles, distributing weight more evenly and improving braking capacity.
Amalgamated Sugar Co. estimates it saved $2.5 million during the pilot project through reduced trips and fuel use.
"We believe that the science for proper weight distribution to minimize road wear has been substantiated by the pilot project, and we believe that the facts clearly support the expansion of the 129,000-pound (trucks) to more roads," said Amalgamated Chairman Duane Grant.
The American Trucking Association parked a demonstration truck containing literature and videos about heavier trucks outside the State House Feb. 11-12. Amalgamated also brought heavy trucks, viewed by members of Idaho's House and Senate transportation committees, to the demonstration,
"Most of the senators want to listen to the hearing and debate before they commit. My sense is there's pretty strong support," said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, a cattle rancher.
Kathleen Fowers, president and CEO of Idaho Trucking Association, said the Legislature has supported heightened weight limits in the past, but she's taking nothing for granted with 43 percent freshmen lawmakers and 10 new House Transportation Committee members.
She said her organization will also lobby to increase weight limits on Idaho interstate highways in the next federal transportation bill.
Fowers points to an ITD report on the pilot project, concluding pilot project routes saw no noticeable spike in accidents or additional wear on roads and bridges.
Fowers said increasing capacity improves safety by reducing the number of trucks on the road. With 10 axles, the heavier trucks also place less weight on individual axles than trucks designed for 105,500 pounds, she said.
AAA Idaho spokesman Dave Carlson, however, argues the original weight limits were imposed for good reason, and the ITD report is inconclusive, lumping together data from lesser-traveled and busy pilot project routes. But even he acknowledges the bill is likely to pass.
"We've assembled a list of 20-30 questions we'd like to see ITD answer," Carlson said.