January 25, 2018

Twin-trailer expansion would need to be part of broad infrastructure deal, Burnley says

Congressional opponents may not object if measure tucked into otherwise-favorable infrastructure bill, attorney says.

By DC Velocity Staff

Efforts to push through the first legislative change in the length of twin truck trailers in 36 years would have to come as part of a broad infrastructure package and not be proposed as a stand-alone bill, a leading transportation attorney said yesterday.

James H. Burnley IV, who served as transportation secretary during the last two years of the Reagan administration and since leaving government has been in private practice in Washington, said there is still resistance in Congress to expanding the maximum size of twins operating on federal-aid highways to 33 feet each from 28 feet. However, lawmakers who oppose the measure are not so dug in that they couldn't live with the change if it was incorporated in a big infrastructure package that they could support, Burnley told the SMC3 annual winter meeting in Atlanta.

By contrast, Congressional opposition is so embedded and intense to proposals expanding a truck's gross vehicle weight—truck, trailer, and cargo—beyond the current 80,000-pound ceiling that the chances of any change in that area are slim, Burnley said. The current truck weight and size ceilings have been in effect since 1982.

The White House has called for a $1 trillion infrastructure package—to include transport, water, broadband, and energy—which would leverage $200 billion in federal spending to attract $800 billion in investment from the private sector, states, and localities.

In 2015, supporters mounted a vigorous but unsuccessful legislative effort to change the trailer-length law. The Obama administration had said there should be no change in the law. It is unclear where the Trump administration stands on the issue.

Shippers, parcel, and less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers, and trade groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have for years supported a 10-foot extension in the length of twin trailers. They argue the longer trailers would increase a vehicle's productivity by up to 18 percent by enabling more efficient cubing of trailer space, and would not add miles traveled or increase a truck's weight beyond the legal limit. Backers of the proposal contend that the growth of digital commerce over the next 10 years will result in a 40-percent increase in LTL shipments that will move in 28-foot twin trailers. About 1.2 million more trucks will be needed to meet that demand, they argue.

Supporters contend that trucks carrying 33-foot trailers would be equipped with longer wheelbases that will handle with more stability than rigs hauling 28-foot trailers.

Opponents argue that the longer vehicles would be more difficult to maneuver, especially on highway on- and off-ramps not configured to safely accommodate trucks with twin trailers longer than the current configuration.

Blair Anderson, director, transportation public policy, for Seattle-based e-tailer Amazon.com Inc., which supports the measure, would not comment on the prospects of the language making it through the legislative process. However, Amazon, which is a member of "Americans for Modern Transportation," an advocacy group, is vigorously lobbying lawmakers to change the law, according to a Washington source.

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