The push within Congress to allow heavier trucks on the nation's interstate highway system dates back to 1991, with passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), says David Miller, vice president and chief operating officer of Gnosis Management Group LLC. That law had the unintended consequence of freezing the right of states to choose which vehicle combinations could be used on those roads. The result, says Miller, was a cap on truck productivity.
Arguments against raising weight limits are based on groundless concerns about safety and highway degradation, in Miller's opinion. "The fact is," he says, "those [larger] vehicle combinations are safer," while resulting in less wear and tear on highways as long as axle requirements are met.
The environmental benefits from heavier trucks can be significant, he says. By increasing the payload of a single vehicle, or allowing for longer trucks, operators can reduce greenhouse emissions by nearly 30 percent.
Other countries have long since adopted more liberal rules on truck size and capacity. "When Sri Lanka has more progressive weight and length limits," Miller says, "you know you're having some difficulties."
He challenges the argument about increased wear and tear, while acknowledging that "you cannot decouple economic vitality from the critical infrastructure of this nation." State departments of transportation have a good understanding of which combinations are the best to use on their roads. Productivity would sharply rise by allowing those vehicles on federal routes as well, he says.
A reform of federal truck limits would also help to alleviate the persistent driver shortage, Miller says, adding that "we're better off using our ability to increase weight and length to move this country forward."
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