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July 25, 2011 9:00 AM, EDT

Group Defends Support of Legislation Allowing States to Lift Truck Weight Limits

By Timothy Cama, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the July 25 print edition of Transport Topics.

A group advocating for higher federal truck weight limits pushed back last week against what it called “misinformation” about legislation it endorses.

“When we see a deliberate campaign to mislead Congress about the record regarding our effort, we simply must respond,” John Runyan, executive director of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, wrote in a letter to all members of Congress.

The group, which represents carriers and shippers, supports the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act, which would allow states to raise the truck weight limit on interstate highways to 97,000 pounds for trucks with six axles (4-18, p. 2).

“It seems to us that there’s a deliberate attempt to mislead members of Congress about the impact of our legislation,” Runyan told Transport Topics.

In June, the Truck Safety Coalition, a group of safety, labor and environmental organizations, sent a letter to lawmakers arguing that bigger, heavier trucks are less safe, would result in more trucks on the road, would increase air pollution and would cause more damage to the nation’s infrastructure.

That coalition backs the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act, which would freeze truck size and weight limits (5-9, p. 4).

“They continue to claim we’re about bigger trucks, not just appropriately heavier,” Runyan said. “They ignore the sixth axle when it comes to braking distance capability. They misstate obvious facts, whether it’s a fairly straightforward total of the number of truck-related fatalities or the recommendations in a particular report.”

The letter from the Truck Safety Coalition also stated that 4,000 people died in truck-related crashes in 2009, while Federal Highway Ad-ministration figures put that figure at 3,380, Runyan said.

The coalition, which includes Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and Parents Against Tired Truckers, did not return messages requesting additional comment.

Runyan’s group wrote in its letter that the sixth axle on a 97,000-pound truck enables it to have a similar stopping ability as a 5-axle, 80,000-pound truck. The Truck Safety Coalition suggested a 100,000-pound truck takes 25% farther to stop.

CTP took issue with the safety groups’ statement that SETA would bring more trucks on the road, writing that it “defies logic.” More trucks result from “economic growth,” and shippers don’t use more trucks just because they can, CTP said.

The coalition’s environmental claims also are flawed, Runyan said.

“The idea that shippers are interested in increasing their environmental footprint through use of 6-axle trucks is just outrageous,” he said. “Simple calculations will tell you that the reason companies are in this is because it’s going to help them save a tremendous amount of fuel, and it’s going to help them be more competitive.”

In Congress, the fate of both truck-size bills remains unclear. Both organizations have said they hope to get the provisions included in the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization.

Recent outlines of potential reauthorization proposals in both the House of Representatives and the Senate did not include the provisions. However, Runyan remained upbeat about his group’s chances.

“We’ve made great progress in picking up support, particularly from members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,” Runyan said. Support for SETA has reached almost the majority of members of that committee, he said, and at that point, members could add the provisions to the legislation.