The chief executives of 15 leading truckload carriers have asked the Senate to oppose language in fiscal-year 2016 appropriations legislation requiring states to permit the use of longer twin trailers on all of the nation's highways.
In a letter sent late last week to Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee's transportation, housing, and urban development subcommittee, and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the subcommittee's ranking member, the CEOs said that legislation forcing states to accept 33-foot twin trailers would impair highway safety and accelerate wear and tear on the nation's roads. Federal law in place since 1982 limits the length of twin trailers to 28 feet each, though 18 states permit longer trailers on their portions of the interstate highway system.
In the letter, the CEOs said the proposal would "make it very difficult for small trucking companies, which are at the heart of our industry, to compete." They advised Congress to move deliberately, saying there "has not been sufficient dialogue around this measure to truly understand the unintended consequences it would have."
The signers include the CEOs of J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., Heartland Express Inc., Celadon Group Inc., KLLM Transport Services, Knight Transportation Inc., and Swift Transportation Corp., among others. CEOs of 16 trucking firms signed the letter, including Charles Hammel, the president of Pitt Ohio, a carrier involved in truckload, less-than-truckload (LTL), and parcel delivery operations.
The letter comes as the Senate considers whether to include the language in the FY 2016 appropriations for the Department of Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development and related agencies. The House has approved its version of so-called "THUD" appropriations legislation that incorporates the measure. The full Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up the THUD spending bill today, with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) expected to offer an amendment adding the language, according to a statement issued late yesterday by opponents of the measure, which include the Teamsters union, the rail industry, and various highway-safety advocates.
The truckload CEOs said the industry is "deeply divided" over the issue, which may be an understatement. A group of nine LTL carriers calling itself the "Coalition for Efficient and Responsible Trucking" (CERT) is lobbying for the language to be signed into law. The group also lists 21 business and shipper groups, as well as individual companies like Amazon.com as supporters of the measure; among those is the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which counts the truckload carriers opposing the provision as some of its most influential members.
Opponents maintain that the nation's highway system, especially its merge lanes and on-off ramps, were not configured to handle tractor-trailer combinations 10 feet longer than current law. They contend that the measure would allow longer vehicles on 200,000 miles of "national network" that handle commercial truck traffic, of which the 44,000-mile interstate system is a part. The longer equipment would travel on local access roads where the 28-foot trailers are allowed to operate. The national network and the local access roads that are considered lower-class structures handle large amounts of motorist traffic each day, according to those fighting the measure.
Supporters of the measure contend that the longer trailers have similarly longer wheelbases, which improve stability and performance. They add that the longer trailers would not add any more weight to a tractor-trailer, since they would keep to the 80,000-pound limit on the maximum gross vehicle weight—tractor, trailer, and freight—allowed by federal law on the national network. The longer trailers would lead to a 16- to 18-percent increase in fleet productivity by allowing shippers to load more lighter-weighted, high-cube goods in each trailer, supporters said.
Adding five feet to the length of each trailer would reduce the number of trucks needed on the road, cutting 6.6 million truck trips, preventing 912 crashes, and reducing fuel consumption by 204 million gallons annually, supporters said. As it now stands, the explosive 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, backers contend. About 1.2 million more trucks will be needed to meet that demand, they argue. Most goods ordered online are lightweight shipments that often cube out before they weigh out.
Earlier this week, Mark V. Rosenker, who chaired the National Transportation Safety Board from August 2006 to August 2008 and served on the Board for seven years, urged Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), to support the measure, calling it "sound public policy" that will result in "less wear and tear on our infrastructure, fewer trucks on the road to move the same amount of freight, and reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions."
Rosenker is president of consultancy Transportation Safety Group LLC and is a senior adviser to CERT.
As of this writing, Cochran is undecided about the language. However, his state, which doesn't allow the longer trailers, seems to want to keep it that way. The Mississippi Transportation Commission yesterday adopted a resolution opposing the language, saying it jeopardizes highway safety and overrides state legislative decisions designed to protect the travelling public.
Earlier this month, DOT, which had been tasked by Congress with studying the affect of proposed changes in truck size and weight limits, told lawmakers that no change should be made to the status quo because the agency lacks the necessary data to make accurate assessments of the national impact of any adjustments.
The DOT findings were cited by the truckload industry CEOs as another reason Congress should oppose the measure on longer twin trailers. Supporters of the proposal said the conclusions simply rubber-stamp the Obama administration's long-standing opposition to sensible measures that would improve fleet and shipper productivity.