The former executive director of the environmental group the Sierra Club has come out in favor of legislation that would expand the deployment of 33-foot twin trailers, saying it would help conserve energy and wouldn't have a negative impact on highway safety or the conditions of the nation's road network.
Carl Pope, who ran the Sierra Club from 1992 to 2010, told Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in a July 25 letter that there is "unequivocal evidence" that replacing the current configuration of twin trailers that are each 28 feet long with twins that are 33 feet long "will save substantial amounts of wasted fuel" by reducing the number of trucks needed to haul the same amount of goods. Pope added that there is no compelling evidence advanced by opponents that longer twin-trailer lengths would either compromise highway safety or further increase wear and tear on infrastructure.
The Senate has begun debating a six-year bill to reauthorize federal funding for highway and mass-transit projects. Included in the bill is language requiring states to allow 33-foot twin trailers on all federal-aid highways. The current national limit for twin-trailer length is 28 feet, a threshold that has remained in effect since 1982. Nineteen states currently allow the larger twins on their federal-aid roads.
Opponents argue that the highway system's merge lanes and on-off ramps were not designed to accommodate tractor-trailers that, with the longer trailers, would measure 84 feet in length. Supporters maintain the longer trucks will increase truck productivity by optimizing each trailer's cubic capacity. They contend that trucks carrying 33-foot trailers with longer wheelbases will handle with more stability than rigs hauling 28-foot trailers. Allowing larger trailers on the road would reduce truck trips because shippers could put more goods in each trailer, supporters said. It would result in a 1.3-billion-mile reduction in truck traffic, a 4.4-billion-pound cut in carbon emissions, and 912 fewer crashes, they say.
Pope emphasized in his letter that he is opposed to allowing trucks heavier than the national gross–vehicle-weight limit of 80,000 pounds—the sum total of tractor, trailer, and cargo—on the nation's roads. He also said the bill under debate in the Senate has "questionable provisions regarding trucking, and omits some critical safety measures that I would support." He did not elaborate. An official close to the situation said Pope was made aware of the twin-trailer issue by a group called "Securing America's Future Energy," dedicated to studying the impact of the United States' longstanding dependence on foreign oil on the country's national security. Frederick W. Smith, founder, chairman, and CEO of Memphis-based FedEx Corp., has close ties to the group. Smith supports the move to 33-foot twin trailers.