A congressional proposal that would see much heavier trucks on the nation's highways will cost taxpayers billions of dollars in damaged roads and bridges while further straining already depleted federal coffers, one of the nation's top transportation representatives said.
The proposal, offered as an amendment to a bill that funds the nation's highways, would increase the current weight limit for a tractor-trailer from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds - adding the equivalent of two large SUVs to every truck.
Many trucking companies, business trade groups, highway safety organizations, citizens' groups, as well as the Truckload Carriers Association, oppose the measure.
"The added truck weight will further destroy precious national infrastructure and cost taxpayers dearly," said Edward R. Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. "Allowing trucks to be 14 percent heavier would be a fundamental change to national policy. Lawmakers should strike this amendment before sending a final highway bill to the White House for the President's signature."
A June 2015 study from the U.S. Department of Transportation found that the added stress of bigger trucks would require engineering and repair work - or even a complete replacement - of nearly 5,000 bridges. The DOT estimates repair work of this scale would cost at least $1.1 billion. The DOT analyzed only 20 percent of the nation's bridges for its report, so the true cost of allowing larger trucks is likely to be billions of dollars more.
In addition to damaging infrastructure, bigger trucks with bigger loads will increase fuel consumption by millions of gallons a year, generate increased greenhouse gas emissions and divert more freight to the country's already gridlocked highways.
The issue underscores important differences between freight trains and trucks. Not only are railroads four-times more fuel efficient than trucks and more environmentally friendly, but, freight rail and its vast coast-to-coast network is funded by private funds. Taxpayers must foot the bill to maintain and upgrade highways and highway bridges.
"At a time when federal spending on infrastructure is essential, this proposal would create a massive additional cost borne by the U.S. taxpayer, a cost that is entirely avoidable," Hamberger said.