What are the benefits to agricultural commodity and forest products transportation of increasing federal Gross Vehicle Weight limits from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds, with the addition of a sixth axle?
Researchers at the University of Georgia estimate log trucking cost reductions of up to 18%, after accounting for the cost of upgrading the trailer and truck engine. See Eason and Greene's Potential Impacts of 97,000-GVW on Logging Costs
AgTEC submitted this statement to the record of the House Highways & Transit Subcommttee's July 9, 2008, hearing on "Truck Weights & Lengths: Assessing the Impacts of Existing Law & Regulations."
Why seek special treatment for unprocessed agricultural and forest products?
Although these products have relatively low values as commodities, unprocessed agricultural and forest products are the foundation of value-adding industries crucial to our rural economy's ability to produce goods.
With an ongoing driver shortage in trucking, why can't railroads take up the slack?
Railroads are most efficient in "long-haul" situations. Because of our history of sustainable forest management, wood-processing mills are able to fulfill their requirements within relatively short hauling distances - typically under 150 miles.
Agriculture is likewise de-centralized, with farms distributed too widely for rail hubs to provide practical service. Today, trucks account for over 90% of fresh fruit and vegetable transport, and 95% of livestock transport. Fresh dairy products are also primarily handled by trucks over relatively short distances. Because of structural changes in agriculture, including grain, the percentage of total truck (vs. rail) hauling has continued to increase.
At best, rail transport can only be used for part of the woods-to-mill and farm-to-mill transport routes, for instance between intermediate processors. In the case of logging operations, since they are mobile, moving from one woods location to another, trucking is necessary for, at least, some part of every log's transport to the mill.
Will raising GVW ceilings on federal highways for raw agricultural and forest products haulers create new safety hazards?
With the addition of a sixth axle, braking distances would not be affected, since extra traction would balance out the extra mass.
Since higher GVWs would have the effect of consolidating loads, the number of trucks on the entire road system - federal and local - would decline, reducing congestion throughout, as well as reducing total truck-miles traveled.
With federal highway bypasses available to trucks loaded to the state-legal limit, trucks will be able to bypass urban centers avoiding any vulnerabilities there.
Will raising GVW ceilings on federal highways cause increased highway deterioration?
Highway infrastructure deterioration is associated, not with gross vehicle weight, but with individual axle weights, which would not change.
Federal highways are built to higher specifications than typical state and local roads, and it makes economic sense to direct more heavy traffic onto them.
Rationalizing transportation routes by allowing high-GVW traffic onto federal roads when doing so enables transporters to select a more direct route decreases total miles traveled and thus reduces wear on the total road system - federal and local. State and county road budgets, which typically cost-share with the federal Department of Transportation, will experience direct relief.
What about the federal bridge formula?
Individual bridges which can be anticipated to experience heavier traffic under new GVW rules will have to be evaluated individually, and posted (or improved) as appropriate.
Will there be a fuel savings?
Yes. The consolidation of loads and rationalizing of routes will both reduce our country's net diesel fuel consumption and our dependence on imported oil.
Will there be environmental impacts?
Yes. Reduction of net diesel fuel consumption contributes directly to cleaner air and reduced carbon emissions.
Where can I go for more information?
See the congressionally mandated report prepared by the National Academy of Sciences' Transportation Research Board:
Regulation of Weights, Lengths and Widths of Commercial Motor Vehicles (Special Report 267). This report supports higher truck weight limits for U.S. road systems.
Several states have prepared or commissioned studies on the impacts of increased truck weight limits on federal or state roads.
Study of Impacts Caused by Exempting Currently Non-exempt Maine Interstate Highways From Federal Truck Weight Limits: Executive Summary (Maine: prepared by Wilbur Smith Associates, 2004; 17 pages)
Minnesota Truck Size and Weight Project: Final Report (Minnesota: prepared by Cambridge Systematics, Inc., 2006; 190 pages - see Executive Summary, pages 8-11)
See the Forest Products Association's issue paper on Increasing Gross Vehicle Weights for Forest Products Haulers or contact Steve Jarvis, Forest Resources Association (FRA), at 301/838-9385 or firstname.lastname@example.org.