Agriculture groups push for greater access to interstate highway system


Capital Press

In a move supported by some agricultural shippers, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has introduced a bill that would increase truck weight limits on interstate highways.

The Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2010, S3705, would raise the weight limit from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds on the interstate highway system for any state that opted into the plan.

Trucks would have to be equipped with six axles rather than five to qualify for the heavier weight.

The bipartisan bill gives states the option to increase interstate truck weight limits "in a safe manner so that we can get more goods from the farm or factory to consumers in fewer trips and fewer vehicle miles," Crapo said in a press release.

Sens. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, joined Crapo in introducing the bill Aug. 5. Identical legislation, HR1799, has also been introduced in the House.

Many trucks meet the current 80,000-pound federal weight limit with space left in their trailers, supporters of the bill said.

Increasing the interstate weight limit will reduce the number of trucks on the road, said Mark Duffin, executive director of the Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association.

And with the extra axle required, "it's actually a lighter footprint on the road," he said in an interview.

Duffin's group is supportive of the bill, but not all that optimistic that Congress will act on it this year.

"My impression is that they are not likely to get to it this year, but you never say never," Duffin said.

Milk Producers of Idaho is another strong supporter of the bill.

Studies have shown that adding an extra axle to big rigs "distributes the load more evenly and reduces wear and tear on the roads," executive director Brent Olmstead said.

Both ag groups have supported a pilot project in Idaho that allows trucks with a gross vehicle weight of up to 126,000 pounds to travel on certain state and county roads with the approval of the Idaho Transportation Department and local highway districts.

Some surrounding states such as Utah and Wyoming already permit the heavier trucks statewide, which puts Idaho ag shippers at a disadvantage, Olmstead said.

Idaho dairy producers shipping milk to Utah for processing have a 16 to 17 percent freight cost disadvantage compared with Utah shippers, he said.

Increasing truck weight limits isn't a new concept, said John Runyan, executive director of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, a group of more than 160 shippers and allied associations.

The United Kingdom raised its gross vehicle weight limit to 97,000 pounds for six-axle vehicles in 2001 with good results, he said.

In the UK, "more freight has been shipped, yet vehicle miles traveled have leveled off and fatal truck-related accident rates have declined by 35 percent," Runyan said in a press release.

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