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Compromise truck efficiency bill introduced

Ag groups welcome bill that increases truck weight limits.

Thursday Rep. Reid Ribble (R., Wisc.) introduced a new “marker” bill, called the Safe, Flexible, and Efficient (SAFE) Trucking Act, that would allow states to increase truck weight limits on federal highways.

Under the bill, states could increase truck weight limits on Interstate System highways within their borders to 91,000 pounds as long as those trucks are equipped with an additional sixth axle.

Ribble said U.S. DOT has indicated that this configuration would be compliant with the existing federal bridge formula. Experts have suggested this gets shippers as much as 70% of the productivity improvements of the 97,000 configuration and establishes the credibility of the six-axle vehicle. 

The federal weight limit for Interstate highways has been set at 80,000 pounds since 1982. Reid said counterparts in Canada and Europe have already had success with trucks over 100 thousand pounds on their roads, and in Maine, which was granted a special exception to allow heavier trucks on their roads, road deaths are at 70-year lows.  

Ribble said, "The SAFE Trucking Act will help us safely move more of the things Americans want with fewer trucks taking up space on the road, and it is based on data to ensure that truck stopping times and pavement wear are as good or better than our current trucks.  When we can increase efficiency, decrease traffic, and make everyone safer in the process, that is a win, and the SAFE Trucking Act is able to help us achieve all these objectives."

The Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP) has officially endorsed the new legislation. The National Grain and Feed Assn. and dairy groups also welcomed the compromise proposal to be included in a multi-year surface transportation legislation. Funding for surface transportation projects expires at the end of October.

NGFA director of economics and government relations Max Fisher said federal highway truck weight limits currently are lower than most state road weight limits and this inconsistency presents obstacles to efficient movement of U.S. grains. “Ribble’s bill would improve this situation, taking better advantage of our Interstate highway system infrastructure while still protecting highway safety.”

The dairy industry also welcomed the proposal. 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, dairy groups said.

In a letter sent to members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, International Dairy Foods Assn. and National Milk Producers Federation said the combination of greater efficiencies and safer highways makes a lot of sense.

"The current patchwork of varying maximum weights compels dairy marketers to transport partially empty loads of milk.  This uses more fuel, creates more congestion and increases the costs of maintaining roads," said Jim Mulhern, president and chief executive officer of NMPF. "Common sense changes like those included in the Safe Trucking Act will improve the efficiency and sustainability of the U.S. dairy industry."

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee announced that they will hold the mark-up on their draft Highway bill on Thursday Sept., 17.

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