May 17, 2010 5:45 AM, EDT

NTTC Backs Heavier Trucks, End of Federal Rule Freeze

Group to Study Limits of Existing Equipment
By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the May 17 print edition of Transport Topics.

CHICAGO — The National Tank Truck Carriers for the first time has formally endorsed the use of trucks heavier than the current 80,000-pound weight limit.

“We’re trying to take some of the electricity out of the third rail of association politics,” NTTC President John Conley told Transport Topics during the group’s annual meeting here

May 11-12. “There are strong feelings on both sides — both in NTTC and in other associations.”

Under the new policy, NTTC endorses a 10% increase over the current weight limit, said Stephen Rush, president of Carbon Express Inc., Wharton, N.J., and the new NTTC chairman.

Rush said the association also supports dropping the federal freeze on size limits to allow states to set their own rules.

NTTC also endorsed conducting studies of how much weight could be added, using the existing tank trailer fleet, and what a new generation of heavier tanks might need to look like to conform to the federal bridge formula that is presently used to limit truck size.

NTTC’s position moves it closer to that of American Trucking Associations, which has endorsed increasing the maximum weight for trucks to 97,000 pounds with the addition of an extra axle.

NTTC also backs lifting the 1991 federal freeze of truck size and weight along with the harmonization of standards on interstates in the western states, which often exceed the 80,000-pound national limit but vary from state to state.

Jeffrey McCaig, chairman and CEO of Trimac Transportation Services Inc., Houston, said that ATA’s prior endorsement of heavier trucks played a role in NTTC’s shift.

“We had looked at our size-and-weight policy 10 years ago, and it was voted down, so we were against any increase,” McCaig said.

However, when ATA endorsed the 6-axle, 97,000-pound weight policy in December 2009, McCaig said NTTC needed to revisit its position. The change “puts us onside with other segments of the trucking industry,” he said.

McCaig also said that the industry needs the federal freeze to be lifted.

“If you were in any other industry that ruled out any improvement in your productivity, would you still be happy with your same telephone or TV or your audio system? You absolutely wouldn’t,” he said.

Rush added that, although members want a change, it was important for it to be done slowly.

“For us to go to the larger weights, it would devastate our industry,” he said, “and not only us: It would devastate the manufacturers of tank trailers as well.

“Let’s say they went to 100,000 pounds,” Rush said. “All of our tanks would be obsolete, so for the next two years, everybody would have to replace their fleet . . . and then the tank manufacturers would have to close up.”

Tom Anderson, vice president of Liquid & Bulk Tank Inc., a manufacturer of petroleum and bulk tank trailers in Omaha, Neb., said that, although most conventional trailers are 53 feet long, “very few tanks are even close to that — most tanks are 42 or 44 feet.”

To comply with the bridge formula, trailers are required to have certain axle spacing and, as currently built, “the vast majority of the tanks aren’t long enough to take advantage of an increase in gross weight.”