The Truckload Carriers Association has changed its official position on the idea of raising the federal weight limit for trucks, but it's still not willing to go as high as the main proposal in the industry.

During TCA's board of directors meeting, held in conjunction with the American Trucking Associations' annual management conference in Phoenix this week, the board voted unanimously to support a proposal calling for an 88,000-pound gross vehicle weight limit, up from the current 80,000 pounds.

This proposal is different from that of the American Trucking Associations. ATA, along with the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, a group of more than 160 shippers and allied associations, has been lobbying for a limit of 97,000 pounds on a new six-axle configuration.

TCA has opposed the 97,000-pound plan because it would mean expensive retrofits or buying totally new equipment -- and for truckload carriers, there likely would not be increased revenue to offset that expense.

Instead, TCA is proposing 88,000 pounds on the same five-axle configuration, which would not require carriers to invest in new equipment. Most truckload carriers and owner-operators point out that 48-footers and 53-footers didn't mean extra money for most, because shippers came to expect more cargo to be hauled for the same rates, on top of carriers having to buy new equipment.

Consensus Needed

"There is a realization that if we're not able to vastly improve congestion, if we're not able to really expand highway infrastructure, and if we're not able to solve the driver shortage, sooner or later there will come a time when we'll have to put more on the equipment," explained TCA President Chris Burruss in an interview.

TCA put together a committee during its annual meeting in March to look into what options would be available to add weight to existing five-axle combinations. The resulting 88,000-pound model was inspired by rules in Canada, Burruss said.

Legislation introduced in August would allow state Departments of Transportation to raise interstate weight limits to 97,000 pounds for trucks with six axles instead of five. The Safe and Efficient Transportation Act is sponsored by Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). An identical bill is being considered in the House of Representatives.

"With all the challenges Congress is facing, expanding truck size and weight is not at the top of their agenda," Burruss said. "So it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the industry to be arguing over weight. We think it would be better for the industry to have something to rally around that doesn't touch that economic nerve."

The next step is a joint TCA/ATA committee to look at how the proposal would work with the existing bridge formula. The committee is due to report during ATA's executive meeting early next year. TCA's hope is that ATA will consider supporting the lower weight proposal.

"Even if we're all together, it's still an uphill battle," Burruss said. If there's a perception among lawmakers that even the industry can't agree, that will make that battle even harder.