Image: Federal Highway Association

Image: Federal Highway Association

The Truckload Carriers Association has come out strongly against legislation that would enable individual states to raise the GCW limit for trucks operating on Interstate highways from the current 80,000 to 91,000 pounds on tractor-trailers equipped with a sixth axle.

The association made its case against the Safe, Flexible, and efficient (SAFE)Trucking Act (H.R. 3488) in a Sept. 16 letter sent to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI). It was signed by TCA Chairman Keith Tuttle and TCA Highway Policy Committee Chairman Jim Towery.

Recognizing that the bill “attempts to improve trucking productivity on our highways,” TCA stated in the letter that it opposes the measure because “it clearly would only benefit a minority of the industry.”

TCA argues that the cost to properly equip trailers and tractors to take advantage of the higher weight limit would not be compensated by rate increases, yet carriers will be compelled by customers to invest in the more costly equipment.

The association said it could cost “anywhere between $8,000 and $24,800, per tractor-trailer” to upgrade equipment to haul the additional 11,000 pounds that would become allowable if the bill passes. What’s more, TCA noted, the extra weight of the third axle would actually reduce the additional weight allotment to between 8,000 and 8,500 pounds.

“Truckload’s experience with prior industry shifts… suggests that the market will not encourage the operation of equipment that doesn’t meet the maximum allowed size,” TCA stated.

 “As has happened before, maximum limits would become the norm and carriers would face tremendous pressure to adjust their equipment to accommodate 91,000/6 despite the fact that they will likely never recoup the costs of the adjustment or haul loads requiring the sixth axle.”

TCA also said that “carriers are unlikely to see rate increases to parallel the increase in load weights… Despite the fact that only 10-20 percent of truckload carriers would be able to take advantage of any [weight] increase, market pressures would require all carriers to invest in new equipment in order to remain competitive and any capital investment into existing equipment would yield little to no return.”

Per TCA, the “most readily apparent” equipment modification needed for a 91,000/6 configuration would be retrofitting a trailer with a third axle. “However, in addition to the third axle on a trailer, carriers would also need to consider trailer reinforcements, kingpin upgrades, and engine improvements in order to accommodate the increased weight.”

The association said the cost to complete a trailer retrofit would vary based on a trailer’s manufacturer and its configuration for use in five-axle operations, but figured that:

  • The approximate cost to add the extra axle and lengthen (for dry vans) or replace (for reefers) the axle slide bar would range between $3,000 and $4,800 per trailer.
  • The additional axle would add between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds to the trailer’s weight and have an average 0.5 mpg “negative impact” on fuel economy due to increased rolling resistance.
  • To accommodate 11,000 additional pounds for the 91,000/6 configuration, most carriers would also need to upgrade their tractors. Tractors with larger, higher torque-rated engines and heavier-duty kingpins would likely be necessary.
  • Retrofitting current tractors with the upgrades could cost approximately $10,000 per tractor. New tractors with the necessary features for 91,000/6 would cost an additional $5,000 to $7,000 more than tractors with standard (350-400 hp) engines with some estimates placing the premium as high as $20,000.
  • Additionally, carriers “would likely want to consider” switching to tires with higher ratings (going from G-rated to H-rated) and altering their tire maintenance schedules. H-rated tires would incur an increased cost of the price of new tires.”

The SAFE Act was introduced on Sept. 10 by Rep. Ribble, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who serves on the Highways and Transit subcommittee. He said the measure would “allow fewer trucks to move more cargo in a safer manner” via a configuration compliant with the federal bridge formula.

According to Ribble, the proposal was written based on DOT safety and road wear data “to ensure that truck stopping times and pavement wear are as good or better than our current trucks.”  

The bill has been loudly applauded by at least six major associations representing the interests of shippers. But it yet to draw any support from trucking-specific lobbies.

Asked by HDT if the American Trucking Associations had any reaction to the bill, ATA spokesperson Sean McNally replied, “No, we don’t.”

Like TCA, The Trucking Alliance, a coalition of trucking businesses that lobbies for safety improvements, does not support the bill.

“This legislation wasn't written to benefit trucking companies, because it would drive up operating costs, drive down truck driver wages and curtail investments in safety technologies,” Lane Kidd, the Alliance’s Managing Director, told HDT.

If Ribble's bill ultimately becomes law, the issue of where such heavier trucks could operate will be decided state by state.

A spokesperson for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials told HDT that "AASHTO and our member state DOTs are watching the prcoess closely and will at the apprpriate time offer comment."

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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