Truck weight reform introduced in Senate

The U.S. Senate recently introduced the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2011 (SETA). The bill, S 747, sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), with co-sponsoring Senators Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), would give any state the option to allow semi-trucks weighing up to 97,000 pounds access to its Interstate highways, provided owners equip trucks with a sixth axle, to preserve braking distances and pavement wear patterns, and agree to pay a supplemental user fee.

An identical bill, HR 763, introduced February 17 in the House by Reps. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) and Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), has already attracted 27 co-sponsors.

“The haulers of raw agricultural and forest products are pleased that a bipartisan group of Senators has recognized the importance of improving truck productivity and safety on our nation’s Interstate system, by introducing Senate Bill 747,” stated Richard Lewis, President of the Forest Resources Association. “We must now move quickly to ensure that the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill adopts the terms SETA sets forth.

“SETA will broaden states’ options and the bill still allows truckers who wish to continue running on five-axle, 80,000-pound rigs to do so. But with full implementation, SETA would reduce the forestry and agriculture sectors’ diesel consumption by 13.9 million gallons annually, reducing carbon emissions by 242 million pounds.”

The 6-axle, 97,000-pound configuration is well-tested on state highways in several states and even on some states’ Interstate highways, through “grandfather” provisions. Countries with competing industries, such as Canada and most European Union countries, operate with similar configurations. The Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Transportation have published studies pointing to safety, congestion, and road-wear benefits, as well as fuel and other cost savings for shippers.

“Forest and agricultural product shippers move dense, relatively low-value products that form the basis of major value-creating industries in the United States,” Lewis said. “That first haul from farm to market or from woods to mill-50 to 100 miles-may account for over 30% of the total cost of the delivered raw material. Reducing costs at that point makes a big difference in the price of the finished product, improving our country’s competitive position and moving economic recovery forward.”

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