The lead attorney for shipper group NASSTRAC waxed optimistic today over the prospects of Congress passing legislation allowing an expansion in the size of twin-trailers operating nationwide.
John Cutler, a veteran of Washington's transport policy wars and NASSTRAC's general counsel since 1999, said "I've never been as optimistic as I am now about (the) productivity gains" achieved by extending the size of each twin-trailer to 33 feet from the current 28-foot maximum, which has been in place since 1982. Speaking at the NASSTRAC annual shipper conference in Orlando, Fla., Cutler cited a renewed pro-business atmosphere in Washington, the defeat or retirement of members of Congress who had opposed the trailer expansion, and the potential influence of a coalition of 20 companies and trade groups, called "Americans for Modern Transportation," that support the effort and will actively lobby for its passage.
The coalition includes Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc.; Atlanta-based UPS Inc.; Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx Corp.; and Overland Park, Kan.-based YRC Worldwide Inc.; the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA); the National Retail Federation (NRF); NASSTRAC and fellow shipper group National Industrial Transportation League; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA), and the National Association of Manufacturers. Its formation was announced in mid-January. In its mission statement, the group said it would "advocate for policies that modernize the delivery of products and consumer goods to businesses and consumers across the country."
Cutler's comments are in contrast to statements made in January by top executives at the American Trucking Associations (ATA) that the proposal would not be on its legislative agenda in 2017. The trucking group, which supported the measure in 2015, said the proposed law caused an uncomfortable split among its top members, with some supporting it but most in opposition. The House killed the proposal before passing a five-year federal transport-funding bill in late 2015.
Twenty states currently allow operation of the longer twin-trailers.
Supporters of the initiative, namely shippers and less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers, said longer trailers would boost productivity and reduce the number of trips because each trailer could haul more goods. The longer trailers would not add weight to each vehicle, would conserve fuel, and would not come at a cost to taxpayers. Each carrier would make a business decision as to whether to invest in them or not, they said.
Opponents, which include safety advocates, labor unions, and independent truckers, said the extended trailers poses a safety risk because the national highway system's merge lanes and on-off ramps were not designed to accommodate tractors carrying twin-trailers longer than 28 feet each. Supporters said the longer trailers would be equipped with extended wheelbases that enable more stable handling than do rigs hauling 28-foot equipment.
Twin-trailers are used mostly by parcel and less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers, whose cargo routinely fills all the available trailer space long before the nationwide limit on so-called gross vehicle weight—which is set at 80,000 pounds when combining tractor, trailer, and cargo—is reached. The increase in trailer length would add 16 percent of cubic capacity to each truck run, allowing carriers and shippers to more efficiently utilize the space aboard each trailer, supporters have said.
In his remarks, Cutler said something must be done for the trucking industry to handle the expected increase in freight traffic without putting more vehicles on the road. According to Department of Transportation forecasts, truck tonnage will increase by 44 percent by 2045, and the value of trucked goods will rise by 84 percent by that time. It is expected that a large percentage of that growth will come from e-commerce shipments, which generally cube out before they weigh out.
The projected growth in e-commerce is the most compelling reason for Congress to pass legislation enabling longer twin-trailers, supporters contend.