Tuesday during floor debate of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act (“the Highway Bill”), the House of Representatives voted to defeat the “Safe Trucking Act” amendment proposed by Rep. Reid Ribble (R., Wisc.) that would have allowed states to permit six axle, 91,000 pounds semis on their interstate system, up from the current 80,000-pound limit.
Ahead of the vote, more than 70 of the nation's leading food and agriculture associations sent a letter urging Congress to include the Safe, Flexible and Efficient (SAFE) Trucking Act, H.R. 3488, as an amendment to the highway reauthorization legislation. The final vote was 187 ayes, 236 nays, and 10 who did not vote. A total of 168 Republicans and 19 Democrats voted in support of the bill.
Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soybean Transportation Coalition, said there were considerable obstacles confronting the initiative. “While the Ribble amendment enjoyed the benefit of compelling facts, data, and statistics on motorist safety, infrastructure wear and tear, and cost savings and efficiency gains for agriculture and the broader economy, many opponents of the legislation simply conveyed to Members of Congress that ‘bigger semis are more dangerous.’ The inherent challenge for supporters of this amendment is that we needed to explain and persuade. Opponents, in many cases, simply needed to frighten and confuse,” Steenhoek said.
If the amendment would have passed and been signed into law, the movement of soybeans, grain, and many other freight would have been more efficient, Steenhoek added. “Farmer competitiveness would have increased.” Unfortunately, a majority in Congress last night did not embrace that opportunity.
"The Ribble amendment was the light at the end of the tunnel to our members, as full truck loads would improve efficiency when shipping commodities, while reducing the number of trucks on our interstate highways,” said Richard Sellers, senior vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs at the American Feed Industry Assn.
The International Dairy Foods Assn. also noted that the dairy industry relies heavily on commercial trucks to get milk from the farm to plants and to move dairy foods from the plants to grocery shelves across the country. Because the products are perishable, they must move quickly and efficiently. “Unfortunately, outdated federal transportation rules now force trucks to leave plants when they are less than full because the trucks reach the current weight limit before they meet the capacity limit,” IDFA said.
National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. president Philip Ellis said truck weight regulations affect every cattle producer’s bottom line. “Outdated federal transportation laws force trucks to carry partially full loads, stifling efficiency and requiring more trucks than necessary on the road,” he said. Without meaningful reform to the outdated truck weight laws, NCBA said cannot support the passage of the Highway Bill.
Sellers said “the feed industry will continue to press to bring about truck weight reform and is confident this is not the last time this issue will arise on Capitol Hill."