An increase in federal truck size and weight limits did not survive a House committee vote yesterday. Members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted 33 to 22
to study the increased limit, rather than actually increasing it.
The House T&I Committee killed a provision in the highway bill that would have allowed 97,000-pound rigs in six-axle configurations, similar to these Canadian trucks. (Photo by Jim Park)
The vote was for an amendment to change a provision in the House highway bill that would have let states raise the limit on Interstate highways from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds on six-axle vehicles.
The amendment, offered by Reps. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., and Jerry Costello, D-Ill., struck the language approving the increase and would have the Transportation Department do a three-year study of such a change. The study must cover safety, pavement and bridge costs, and diversion of freight from the railroads and other modes.
"We are very disappointed," said Mary Phillips, senior vice president for legislative affairs at American Trucking Associations, which supported the increase.
The bill is not finished - it still must go to the House floor and to conference with the Senate - but this provision probably was the trucking industry's best opportunity to win the increase.
"We'll be back," Phillips said.
The Coalition for Transportation Productivity, a group representing some 200 shipper and carrier interests, also expressed disappointment and resolve.
"There is no need to commit further study to this truck weight proposal," said CTP executive director John Runyan in a statement. "Voluminous academic research and practical on-the-ground experience has proven that states should have the option to put more productive, six-axle trucks on the Interstates."
"Our effort is far from over," he said.
The bill still contains a provision under which states could permit 126,000-pound vehicles on 25-mile segments of their Interstates. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., offered an amendment that would have restricted this provision but withdrew it in favor of working directly with the states that are interested in these operations.
This vote occurred during mark-up of the committee's bill to reauthorize the federal highway program. The bill, called the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act, would spend $260 billion over five years. It still must clear the House floor and negotiations with the Senate, which is working on a $109 billion, two-year proposal.
If a final bill cannot be cleared and signed by March 31, Congress will have to pass another extension - the ninth since the current highway program officially expired in October 2009.
How the voting went
This was a non-partisan vote, as Republicans and Democrats joined in opposition to the weight increase provision.
Rep. Barletta cited a Pennsylvania Transportation Department report that says the state cannot accommodate heavier trucks on its Interstates, and pointed out that having a sixth axle means nothing if truck is not properly loaded.
Another Republican, Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, opposed the amendment, citing a Wisconsin DOT study that found higher weights led to improved productivity with no harm to costs, safety or the environment.
Democrat Michael Michaud of Maine, a longtime champion of higher truck weight limits in that state, voted for the provision to increase weights. Maine's experience with heavier trucks shows fewer accidents because the heavy traffic shifts from back roads to Interstates that can handle that traffic more safely, he said.
"It's not about safety but rails," he said. "The rails are set against this."
Perhaps the decisive vote for the amendment came from Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., who chairs the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. Duncan said he supported the amendment because there needs to be more time to educate the public on this issue.
Republican John Mica, the chairman of the T&I Committee, voted against the amendment.
"We have been through this debate for an entire year," he said, explaining that he saw the provision as compromise that would give states that do not already have higher weight limits the option of taking an increase. "It's a fairness issue."