It looks like 80,000 pound total weight limit will be with us for quite some time. The House had originally included a provision in its never-passed highway bill to allow states to approve 97,000 pound vehicles with an extra (sixth) axle. It never got out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee which voted 33 to 22 to study the issue for the next three years rather than vote on it. The Senate never included higher weight limits in its highway hill. The alternative proposal, an 88,000 pound limit with the current 5-axle configuration, never gained traction.
The main support for higher weight limits comes from shippers who want to be able to reduce transportation costs per unit of product. The Coalition for Transportation Productivity, which represents about 200 shippers and carriers pushed hard for the legislation. NASSTRAC’s Stand Up For Trucking Fly-In on February 1 included 170 executives taking the message to DC that we need greater productivity and that larger trucks are just as safe as 80,000 pound trucks. Just one day after the fly in, the proposal was stripped from the House bill. The Coalition argues that higher weight limits means fewer trucks on the road which means great safety, less congestion, and less highway wear and tear. They also point out that Canada and most of Europe allow 97,000 pound vehicles with no impairment of safety or damage to highways and bridges.
While the ATA claims to support higher weights, they are not willing to expend political capital for the cause and many of their member carriers oppose the higher limits. In fact the ATA and the Association of American Railroads sent a joint letter to House members asking them to oppose higher weight limits. For carriers, the downside is the need to invest more money up-front in trailers and tires and spend more on maintenance, but their customers that cube out will not benefit so will not be willing to pay more. The carriers also feel they never got any additional money as they moved from 45’ to 48’ to 53’ trailers so are gun shy about paying up front this time around.
The opponents are lined up to fight higher weights, starting with the railroads who are willing to expend political and monetary capital to fight any relaxation of weight limits. Safety groups, OOIDA, and organized labor are also adamantly opposed, claiming lost jobs, more accidents, and infrastructure damage would result from the higher weight limits.
It looks like this issue is dead for quite some time to come.