Schmidt: Drive Recovery With Better Truck Efficiency

Posted July 18, 2011 at 5:58pm

There are serious challenges facing our aging transportation system. If, for example, we are going to reduce congestion and improve safety without increasing taxes or spending, we will need to make existing infrastructure more efficient, allowing it to help facilitate and sustain economic growth.

I was pleased to join Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) in introducing H.R. 763, the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act. SETA would help strengthen our economy by making our interstates safer, less congested and more efficient. It does this by simply allowing safe, more productive trucks to access the interstate highway system.

Generally speaking, only trucks carrying 80,000 pounds or less are legally permitted to operate on interstate highways. These federal weight standards have not been updated since 1982 and they are hurting our environment and economy.

The current weight limit forces many trucks to leave loading docks only partially full. This leads to more trucks on the road, more congestion, more roadway wear and tear and wasted fuel.

SETA would help alleviate these problems by allowing states to raise weight limits from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds — but only for single-trailer trucks equipped with six axles and only on specially designated routes. The sixth axle on these trucks compensates for the additional weight by maintaining braking and handling standards without making the vehicle any bigger or longer.

One of the biggest misunderstandings is that SETA is bad for our local roads. This is a myth, and, unfortunately, just one of many misconceptions being spread about SETA. It is time to set the record straight.

Enacting SETA will actually make our highways safer. The biggest contributor to truck-accident rates is the vehicle miles they travel — not the weight they haul.

Since the United Kingdom raised its weight limit to 97,000 pounds for six-axle trucks in 2001, it has experienced exactly what we need here. More freight has been shipped, but vehicle miles traveled have leveled off and fatal truck-related accident rates have declined by 35 percent.

SETA will also help grow our economy by making the shipment of goods more efficient, helping to level the playing field for U.S. companies. One business example speaks volumes about the bill’s potential positive impact. Under full implementation of SETA, MillerCoors would need 2,000 fewer trucks each week to meet current demand, eliminating more than 1 million weekly vehicle miles traveled.

Additionally, the U.S. vehicle weight limit is the lowest of all our major trading partners. Canada, Mexico and most European countries all have higher vehicle weight limits of at least 97,000 pounds — putting the U.S. at a severe productivity disadvantage and complicating cross-border exchange.

And, finally, more efficient truck transportation also has clear environmental benefits. Six-axle trucks carrying 97,000 pounds get 17 percent more ton-miles per gallon than trucks currently on our interstates. SETA will reduce our carbon footprint and allow businesses across the country to immediately minimize their environmental impact. Kraft Foods, for example, would save more than 6 million gallons of fuel nationwide and annually eliminate 73,000 tons of carbon emissions.

Six-axle trucks can safely ship more freight. And they are already in use around the globe. SETA is a safe way to get the most from our highways and promote economic growth at a time when we need it most.

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) is a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.