A bill was introduced in the Senate Thursday that would put an end to the federal freeze on changes in truck sizes and weights, allowing states to allow 97,000-pound, six-axle rigs on their highways.

The Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA) is cosponsored by Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). The bill number is S. 747.

Like identical companion legislation pending in the House of Representatives, SETA gives each state the option to selectively raise interstate weight limits from 80,000 pounds to up to 97,000 pounds. The higher limit applies only to vehicles equipped with six axles instead of the typical five. The additional axle does not affect truck size, but it does allow shippers to safely use extra cargo space while maintaining, or improving, all safety and handling characteristics.

As Crapo pointed out in a statement, Idaho currently allows for 97,000-pound loads under special permitting and axle options. The SETA bill would allow other states the same option if axles are added to maintain safety and weight standards. Under present law, trucks heavier than 80,000 pounds are forced off the Interstate and onto local roads in some states.

"Businesses and consumers alike are concerned about high energy prices," said Kohl. "We must do everything we can to lessen the shock of $100-per-barrel oil and $4-per-gallon gas, and we must reduce our usage of and dependence on foreign oil. This is a common sense bill that will save money for the American companies that make everyday products as well as the families that use them. I've heard from businesses across the state that have told me that lowering their fuel costs will increase their competitiveness and free up the money they need to create more jobs."

The Coalition for Transportation Productivity, a group of more than 180 shippers and allied associations dedicated to responsibly increasing federal weight limits on interstate highways, praised the bill.

"SETA is a narrowly drawn bill that enables companies to move a given amount of product in fewer vehicles without adding more weight per tire or increasing stopping distances," said CTP Executive Director John Runyan. "SETA is supported by a body of data collected from academic, state, federal and international experts who have evaluated or experienced this proposal and support the logic of the six-axle, 97,000-pound configuration as the new workhorse standard for the American truck fleet. Even though higher productivity, six-axle trucks are undeniably safe and more efficient, SETA still puts the decision into the hands of state officials, who are best equipped to determine if the configuration makes sense in their states.

"Trucking is a driving force for our economy and plays a critical role in moving raw materials and products from the field and factory to consumers," continued Runyan. "By making truck shipments more sustainable, SETA is projected to make highways safer, cleaner and more efficient."

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimates that the trucking industry will haul 30 percent more tonnage in 2021 than it does today. If current weight restrictions remain the same, ATA estimates that our economy will require 18 percent more trucks on the road driving 27 percent more miles than they do now. SETA would help correct this imbalance by allowing shippers to safely reduce truckloads, fuel, emissions and vehicle miles traveled for each ton of freight shipped.

However, some truckload carriers are not in favor of the move, believing it would simply force them to purchase new equipment without being able to charge higher rates. In addition, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the railroad industry and many consumer safety groups oppose such a change.

The Safe and Efficient Transportation Act, H.R. 763, was reintroduced in the House of Representatives in February by Reps. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) and Michael Michaud (D-ME).

For more information on this issue:

"Supporters of Higher Truck Weights Hope Now is Their Time," Truckinginfo, December 2010

"Heavier-Rig Idea Advances," Truckinginfo, June 2009