National Opinions

Congress must reject push for heavier trucks

Merced County has enough difficulty keeping its bridges safe; if trucks that are 14 percent heavier are allowed to use them, they will deteriorate that much more quickly.
Merced County has enough difficulty keeping its bridges safe; if trucks that are 14 percent heavier are allowed to use them, they will deteriorate that much more quickly.

The nation’s highways will be subjected to further damage if Congress doesn’t act.

At issue is a plan floated by narrow shipping interests in Congress to create a “pilot program” allowing for heavier tractor-trailers in some states.

The effort would increase damage to the nation’s already-crumbling roadways. Lawmakers must preserve our infrastructure by rejecting this dangerous experiment and keep heavier, more damaging trucks off the roads.

A coalition led by corporations like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors is lobbying Congress to propose a bill to raise truck weight limit in some states from the federal maximum of 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds – a 14 percent increase.

A 2016 Department of Transportation study found billions of dollars in additional bridge costs if heavier trucks are approved, making clear the negative effects heavier trucks would have on the nation’s infrastructure.

Even more concerning, these trucks do not load or unload their freight on the interstates, where Congress has authority. Why does that matter? It means that if Congress approves this proposal, heavier trucks will find their way into local communities to pick up and deliver their goods – and it is these local roads and bridges that are simply not built to withstand heavier-truck traffic. In turn, heavier trucks would impose an additional tax burden on state and local taxpayers with no federal source for cost recovery.

As a county engineer in Ohio in which I am responsible for highway, road and bridge maintenance, the effect heavier trucks would have on our local infrastructure is especially concerning. Our experience tells us that planned routes, with roads and bridges built for legal loads, are often bypassed in the age of GPS technology. This means heavier trucks will take the shortest route to get from one point to another while ignoring mandatory weight-limit signage.

Considering the tight budgets so many counties and municipalities face, we can hardly afford to allow these heavier trucks on local roads and bridges.

Increasing truck weight limits would also undermine congressional efforts to modernize the nation’s infrastructure. In its 2017 infrastructure report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s roads a “D” grade, finding that one of every 5 miles of highway pavement is in poor condition. The most recent Federal Highway Administration data show that more than 55 percent of the nation’s bridges are in either fair or poor condition.

This is no time to be experimenting with bigger trucks that can do greater damage to our crumbling infrastructure, especially given the financial challenges to fund repairs. According to the ASCE, there is a $420 billion backlog in highway repairs and an additional $123 billion in bridge fixes, which would only be worsened by higher rates of damage caused by heavier trucks clogging roadways.

It is obvious why the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected a similar proposal from former Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., in 2015. The DOT recommended last year that no changes be made to truck size and weight limits.

Nothing has changed since then to make allowing heavier trucks on our roads any less damaging. Our highways and bridges are not laboratories for risky experiments. Congress should reject this unwise idea to put bigger and heavier trucks on the road.

Neil Tunison is the county engineer of Warren County, Ohio. He wrote this for