U.S. House passes Idaho truck weight bill

A truck travels northbound on Interstate 15 near Idaho Falls. Language included in the recently approved House version of the Fiscal Year 2016 Transportation, Housing & Urban Development appropriations bill would allow Idaho to increase its current truck weight limits, which would make shipping of agricultural commodities more efficient.

BOISE — Officials say federal legislation giving Idaho authority to set its own interstate highway truck weight limit is closer than ever before to becoming reality.

Idaho’s interstate truck weight limit has remained at 105,500 pounds since the federal government enacted a freeze on states’ weight limits in 1991.

Late June 9, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved the Fiscal Year 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill, which included language specifically granting Idaho the right to increase its limit. Idaho state lawmakers, Gov. Butch Otter and an 80-member coalition with strong agricultural representation have lobbied for a 129,000-pound weight limit, in line with surrounding states.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, introduced the language, identical to a rider he added to last year’s transportation funding bill. That rider was defeated, due to strong opposition, including from the railroad industry.

Simpson emphasizes heavier trucks must have more axles, distributing less weight per axle than a standard truck and increasing breaking power.

Simpson’s spokeswoman, Nikki Wallace, is optimistic about the legislation’s chances this time.

“Each year, he’s been able to move it further and further ahead,” Wallace said.

Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., are expected to try to introduce companion language to the transportation bill from a standalone truck weight bill previously introduced by sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both R-Idaho. The Senate is expected to act on the transportation bill before its upcoming recess.

“There are other concerns with the bill — not necessarily (truck weights),” said Crapo’s spokesman, Lindsay Nothern. “If we can get it in the bill, I think it will be OK.”

Following a 10-year state pilot project with 129,000-pound weight limits that found there was no added wear on infrastructure or heightened safety risk, Idaho implemented a policy enabling businesses to petition state and local jurisdictions for routes with higher weight limits. Idaho Trucking Association President and CEO Julie Pipal said the policy has worked well at the state level, but “anywhere we need a connection on a local road, we still have challenges.”

“We would rather have our major facilities with commercial vehicles on them and leave the local roads to local traffic,” Pipal said.

Opponents of the truck weight legislation with Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, say fatalities involving large truck crashes have risen by 17 percent in the past four years, and 76 percent of respondents to a public opinion poll opposed longer and heavier trucks.

Boise lobbyist Roy Eiguren, who represents agricultural commodity groups, grocers and other business leaders with the Right Truck for Idaho Coalition, said the facts — including Idaho’s pilot project results — support increased truck weights.

Eiguren said the change would mean multi-million-dollar savings for his members, including Amalgamated Sugar, as four trucks with 129,000-pound weight limits could haul nearly the same capacity as five trucks with 105,500-pound limits.

“This is the best opportunity we’ve had in a decade to get the legislation through Congress, and that’s due to the fabulous efforts of Congressman Simpson,” Eiguren said.

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