A congressman today asked the Department of Transportation to release the findings of a two-year study of the impact of larger and heavier trucks on the safety of the nation's highways, saying Congress needs all completed study results before it can fashion a comprehensive bill to fund the nation's surface transport system.
In a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Rep. Reid J. Ribble (R-Wis.), said lawmakers need the study results "as soon as possible" to develop a "fully informed bill" to pay for modernizing the U.S. transportation network. The 2012 law that funded highway and transit programs for 30 months expires at the end of May. Most observers expect Congress to approve a short-term funding extension through the end of the year.
In the same 2012 law, Congress ordered a study into the effects of raising the size and weight limits of trucks. The study was to be completed by last November, but final results have not been released. The Federal Highway Administration, a subagency of the Department of Transportation, is overseeing the effort.
In his letter to Foxx, Ribble said he was told that DOT had completed the part of the study addressing the controversial subject of raising truck weights operating on the 44,000-mile interstate highway system beyond the current 80,000-pound limit. The agency is also examining the impact of increasing the length of twin trailers attached to the tractor to 33 feet each from 28 feet. The current weight and size ceilings have been in place since 1982. As many as 44 states have their own, varied, regulations allowing vehicles weighing more than 80,000 pounds on their respective roads.
Legislative efforts to increase the federal maximum truck weight to 97,000 pounds in return for trucks being equipped with a sixth axle to improve balance and braking have been repeatedly turned back. Critics argue that an increase in truck weight will inflict more costly damage on an already-brittle road network and will jeopardize highway safety. Supporters maintain that higher weight limits will increase truck productivity and will take more trucks off the road because more goods could be loaded into each truck. They also point to conclusions from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), another DOT subagency, that the stopping distance of a six-axle truck loaded to 97,000 pounds is identical to the stopping distance of a five-axle truck that's loaded to 80,000 pounds.
An FMCSA spokesman said today that Foxx plans to respond directly to Ribble's letter. Jack Van Steenburg, FMCSA's chief safety officer and associate administrator, told a freight-broker group in mid-April that the study was, at the time, undergoing an extremely rigorous review process within DOT. "It's a huge study that will be controversial, no matter what the conclusions are," he said.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said the study was conducted by the Transportation Research Board. DC Velocity regrets the error.