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Congress must reject push for heavier trucks

Traffic on the westbound Long Island Expressway.

Traffic on the westbound Long Island Expressway. Credit: Howard Schnapp

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 that would raise the current 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 were approved, making clear the negative effects heavier trucks would have on the nation’s infrastructure and taxpayers alike.

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 five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition. On top of that, 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 much-needed 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. In Ohio counties alone, we need an additional $1.3 billion to fix our bridges.

Given the serious consequences of allowing heavier trucks on the roads, it is obvious why the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected a similar effort proposed by former Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wisconsin, in 2015 by a bipartisan vote.

And last year, the DOT further recommended that no changes be made to truck size and weight limits.  

Nothing has changed since then that would render allowing heavier trucks on our roads and highways to be any less damaging. The current plan being pursued is no different than previous efforts, and with the nation’s infrastructure in dire condition, there is no reason for lawmakers to reverse course now.

Our highways and bridges are not laboratories for risky experiments that would burden taxpayers with even more infrastructure costs. Congress should reject this unwise idea and any additional attempts to put bigger and heavier trucks on the road.

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