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Runyan: Heavier Trucks Can Aid the Environment

We need to take swift action in order to prevent our transportation system from becoming overwhelmed over the next decade. Truck traffic is currently increasing 11 times faster than road capacity, while freight hauled by trucks in the U.S. is expected to double by 2025. We have the opportunity this year to address this issue through carefully crafted vehicle weight limit reform that will improve highway safety, benefit the environment by reducing emissions and fuel usage, and increase economic productivity.

[IMGCAP(1)]The Safe and Efficient Transportation Act, sponsored by Reps. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) and Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), would give individual states the option to increase their interstate vehicle weight limits to 97,000 pounds, but only for vehicles equipped with a sixth axle for safety. Without changing the size or length of the truck, the additional axle maintains current braking capacity and weight-per-tire-distribution while minimizing pavement wear. The bill also imposes a user fee for six-axle units that would fund vital bridge repair.

Lead to Fewer Truck-Related Accidents: Opponents of the bill have raised concerns using emotion-based arguments about truck-related accidents. The data, however, is clear. Academic studies and empirical evidence have consistently demonstrated that permitting heavier trucks outfitted with an extra axle on interstates actually reduces the vehicle miles needed to deliver a ton of freight and leads to fewer highway accidents.

In 2001, the United Kingdom raised the gross vehicle weight limit for six-axle trucks to 97,000 pounds. Since then, fatal truck-related accident rates have declined by 35 percent, according to a 2008 study by the U.K. Department for Transport. And a 2009 Wisconsin Department of Transportation study found that if a law like the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act had been in place in 2006, it would have prevented 90 truck-related accidents in the state that year.

The reality is that, since the current 80,000-pound weight limit was set in 1982, more trucks have taken to the road to sustain growing consumer demand — nearly doubling the miles they travel each year in an effort to keep up with a sixfold increase in gross domestic product. One business example speaks volumes about the potential positive impact of the bill. Under full implementation of the legislation, MillerCoors would need 2,000 fewer trucks each week to deliver today’s production, eliminating more than 1 million weekly vehicle miles traveled.

It is important to note that vehicle accident rates are strongly tied to vehicle miles traveled, or VMTs. By consolidating freight on fewer vehicles, America’s shippers could reduce the number of trucks needed to deliver a specific amount of freight — cutting VMTs and making roads safer in the years ahead.

Lower Fuel Usage and Reduce Carbon Footprint: More efficient truck transportation is not just a safety improvement — it’s also a clear environmental benefit. It’s a fact that six-axle trucks carrying 97,000 pounds get more ton-miles per gallon than trucks currently on our interstates. And the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that raising the federal weight limit would save 2 billion gallons of diesel fuel annually, amounting to a 19 percent decrease in fuel consumption. That’s right — higher truck weights will almost immediately reduce our carbon footprint and allow businesses across the country to minimize their environmental impact. Kraft Foods, for example, would save 6.6 million gallons of fuel nationwide and eliminate 73,000 tons of carbon emissions each year. Truck weight reform therefore presents a valuable opportunity for both economic and environmental improvement.

Help U.S. Compete in a Global Economy Where America Has Among the Lowest Allowable Truck Weights: It is important to note also that American gross vehicle weight limits are among the lowest of industrialized nations. Canada, Mexico and most European countries now have higher vehicle weight limits without any deterioration of safety, which puts the U.S. at a productivity disadvantage and complicates cross border exchange.

While our European competitors, for example, move goods freely across their continent, U.S. manufacturers must rely on expensive freight consolidation operations to load exports to European standards. This reduces productivity and adds cost to American shippers and consumers. Harmonizing weight limits with our major trading partners will ease the cost of moving U.S. goods into international markets and improve our competitive edge.

In order to preserve our transportation infrastructure and economic future, we must make the smart change and raise interstate weight limits for six-axle trucks. The Safe and Efficient Transportation Act is critical to securing a safer, cleaner, more productive future for America’s transportation network.

John Runyan is senior manager for federal government relations with International Paper and is co-chairman of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, an advocacy group of more than 100 shippers and allied associations.

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