The American Trucking Associations put out a statement saying it "strongly supports" a bill that would allow states to approve the operation of trucks on Interstates with a gross weight of 97,000 pounds.

The Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2009, (H.R. 1799) introduced by U.S. Reps. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) and Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) on March 30, ATA says, will result in "safer highways, cleaner air and less costly freight transportation."

Current law limits the weight of five-axle trucks traveling on the Interstate System to 80,000 pounds. The legislation requires that trucks operating above 80,000 pounds must add a sixth axle to compensate for the extra weight. The extra axle adds two more brakes, preventing an increase in stopping distances and avoids additional pavement damage.

The operation of this new, more efficient vehicle will allow trucking companies to deliver the nation's freight while making fewer trips, ATA said. The result will be a reduction in the number of truck-involved crashes, less fuel use - and thus reduced emissions and carbon - and less congestion on our crowded highways. Fewer miles traveled also means less pavement damage, lowering highway maintenance costs.

While most Interstate Highway bridges are fully capable of handling the additional weight of these vehicles, some bridges - particularly those off the Interstate system - will have to be strengthened or replaced on an accelerated cycle in order to accommodate the vehicles.

ATA points out that there are no mandates in the bill; it only allows individual states to choose to authorize their use.

Nonetheless, the bill recognizes that additional bridge costs are possible, and vehicles authorized to operate under this legislation will be required to pay an additional fee, which ATA supports, and which will be dedicated to bridge investments in those states that authorize their use.

"As part of our Sustainability Initiative, ATA supports a number of reforms to federal truck size and weight regulation," said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. "The use of more efficient trucks, such as those allowed under the bill, will significantly reduce the trucking industry's carbon output," he added. A recent study by the American Transportation Research Institute found that the 97,000-pound truck is 17 percent more fuel-efficient on a ton-mile basis than a truck with a gross weight of 80,000 pounds. This means 17 percent less carbon output and similar reductions in other pollutants.

The bill requires states to report safety and infrastructure cost impacts to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, who is authorized to discontinue operations in a state if safety problems are detected.