By Donna Harman
President & CEO
Congress is once again facing a self-imposed summer deadline to reauthorize highway construction projects and policies that affect our ability to transport finished goods to customers and receive raw materials in our mills. We hope they do not once again “kick the can down the road” as our nation’s infrastructure is sorely in need of modernization. One important transportation policy for paper and packaging manufacturers is the maximum federal allowable truck weight. Our products tend to be heavy and frequently the truck can “weigh out” before it is full.
Two years ago, Congress adopted a short-term patch by passing the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). This bill called for the federal U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to study the safety and infrastructure impacts of high-productivity trucks (considering both length and weight reforms). The report is expected out any day, and we hope it will be just-in-time delivery for Congress to use the results in a longer-term reauthorization bill.
AF&PA supports making critical improvements to America’s transportation efficiency by safely increasing the maximum gross vehicle weight on federal interstate highways with the addition of a sixth axle and is actively advocating this position on Capitol Hill with many strategic partners.
Truck weight limits have been frozen at 80,000 pounds on the national interstate highway system for over 20 years, and DOT estimates that by 2020 the amount of freight moved throughout the country will increase 87 percent from 2000 levels. Increased diesel costs, higher insurance premiums, and the cost of stricter emissions standards are compounded with each additional load required to move product, and driver hours-of-service regulations and growing highway congestion have created even greater problems. Our nation is facing a transportation shortage and multiple options and upgrades will be required to accommodate the coming surge in increased freight. Making existing trucks more productive by allowing them to be retrofitted to safely carry more weight is part of the answer.
Moving finished product more efficiently isn’t the only reason we and our partners in the Coalition for Transportation Productivity are advocating for higher truck weight limits on interstate highways. Other reasons include:
- There is a shortage of transportation capacity for the forest products industry. Moving raw materials to mills, as well as finished products to customers, is increasingly difficult and costly. Often, our trucks must travel on smaller state roads and through small towns.
- Canadian, European and Mexican competitors all have higher weight limits that reduce their cost of delivery.
- An increase in the maximum allowable weight of six-axle semi-trailers is an effective and safe way to increase truck productivity and America's freight capacity. Technology improvements and stronger roads and bridges make it safe for each truck to carry more freight.
- Increasing truck weights will reduce congestion, decrease emissions, reduce use of and dependence on fossil fuels, improve highway safety due to fewer vehicle miles traveled, reduce road wear and tear, and improve global competitiveness.
We have many miles to go before we rest on this issue, but with continued advocacy and fact-based information, we believe legislators will see that the road to success for everyone starts with more productively using what we already have and allowing an increase in the federal truck weight limit.