National Cattlemen’s Beef Association officials are lobbying Congress to update 25-year-old U.S. transportation laws governing hauling weights.
The organization is proposing the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2011 (H.R. 763) as part of any consideration of a new Highway Bill in 2014.
The legislative proposal gives states the option to increase truck-weight limits to 97,000 pounds with inclusion of a sixth axle on trucks. The additional axle maintains the current axle level with the current weight limit standard while maintaining the same braking capacity.
Kent Bacus, NCBA associate director of legislative affairs, says 80,000-pound load limits are incompatible with current livestock transportation needs.
“Farmers, ranchers and agri-businesses need more efficient ways to transport their goods in order to meet increasing demand,” Bacus says. “Freight hauled by trucks in the U.S. is expected to double by 2035. Consolidating truck loads is one option to help meet that increased demand. The Transportation and Research Board determined that a six-axle truck carrying 97,000 pounds has the same braking distance as an 80,000-pound truck with five axles.”
Bacus notes that current load limits force livestock owners and agribusiness owners to frequently transport less than 100 percent of the load trucks would accommodate. That practice, he explains, is inefficient in terms of utilizing transportation resources. It also takes an economic bite out of livestock and agribusiness sales.
“Increasing truck weight limit to 97,000 pounds means smaller operations could consolidate goods into fewer shipments,” Bacus says. “That means there are fewer trucks on the road and less expense for small businesses. This is a safe and cost-effective alternative that doesn’t impede commerce.”
Canada, Mexico and other European countries increased truck load limits some time ago.
A study in the United Kingdom revealed that, since the UK raised its gross vehicle weight limit to 97,000 pounds for six-axle vehicles in 2001, fatal truck-related accident rates have declined by 35 percent. At the same time, more freight has been shipped and vehicle miles traveled to deliver a ton of freight declined.
Other studies also illustrate that increasing truck weight limits to 97,000 pounds with an additional axle is a safe alternative to putting more trucks on the road.
“It’s a top priority at NCBA to work to obtain the right for individual states to increase truck weight limits without the threat of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) pulling funding,” Bacus says. “As part of the increased weight limit legislation, we would like to see states have the authority to designate which highways and bridges heavy trucks are allowed to travel. That would compensate for any additional wear and tear on roads and bridges.”
Bacus also notes that, because Canada and Mexico already have increased weight limits in effect, lower limits in the U.S. put domestic livestock owners and agribusiness at an economic disadvantage in the marketplace.
“One of the roadblocks to getting this new legislation in place is the longevity of the U.S. Highway Bill,” Bacus says. “Typically, highway bills are only renewed every five to seven years. Since last year’s highway bill will expire in 2014, we could see a new bill proposed for approval. Given the difficulty Congress has had in recent years to pass new legislation, we may also see the current bill, which doesn’t provide for increased load limits, simply extended for another one to two years.”
Under current transportation laws, foreign goods entering the U.S. can be 100,000 pounds and hauled on a five-axle vehicle. That creates a consistent economic disadvantage for U.S. farmers and ranchers.
“In all fairness, states need the option to increase the weight limit, or at a minimum, Congress should include a provision in the Highway Bill that allows for purchase of permits for commercial vehicles to haul agricultural commodities up to 100,000 pounds,” Bacus says.
Other groups and organizations joining NCBA in the push for new legislation include Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, Professional Rodeo Stock Contractors Association, Agricultural and Food Transportation Conference (subsidiary of American Trucking Associations, Inc.), Agricultural Retailers Association, American Meat Institute and the National Pork Producers Council.
“Many livestock producers and agri-businesses haul product loads seasonally,” Bacus says. “That means they wouldn’t be hauling 97,000-pound loads all day, every day. Many of these producers hit the current federal weight limit with significant space in their trailers. That forces them to use more trucks and make more trips than would be necessary with the higher weight limit.”
Bacus is hopeful that the congressional response to the legislative proposal doesn’t include an additional study of the feasibility of increased weight loads.
“Studies already demonstrate that 97,000-pound loads are a safe and efficient alternative to putting more trucks on the road,” Bacus says. “American producers need to be able to compete on the same economic playing field as foreign competitors. We don’t need another study. We need action.” ❖