The newly formed Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP) reports that its efforts to gain wider Congressional support for higher commercial truck weight limits seem to be working; though John Runyan, the group's co-chair, admits there's still a long way to go.

“We're getting excellent response from Capitol Hill for a couple of reasons,” Runyan, who is also senior manager of federal government relations for International Paper, told Fleet Owner. “First, higher truck weight is being advocated more broadly by shippers and carriers in unison. Second, we are willing to pay for the privilege of hauling more weight, so any impact on infrastructure is covered. And, finally, we've got a lot more safety data for our side of the argument. That's a telling piece of evidence for our argument.”

CTP is supporting the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2009 (H.R. 1799), introduced by Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME) this March, to allow individual states to increase their interstate vehicle weight limits to 97,000 lbs. — but only for vehicles equipped with a sixth axle. Without changing the size or length of the truck, the additional axle would maintain braking capacity and the current distribution of weight per tire while minimizing pavement wear, CTP said. The bill also imposes a user fee for six-axle units that would fund vital bridge repair.

That being said, though, getting this bill passed “is going to be a very tough lift,” Runyan noted, due to expected opposition from safety groups. And if passed, it will take time for the higher-weight capacity trucks to actually get on the roads.

“Even if this [bill] passed tomorrow, you couldn't put a six-axle tractor-trailer on the road until the states make their own statutory changes,” Runyan explained. “Our hope is that Congress would pass this bill, we'd get a handful of states that would quickly allow heavier trucks to operate within their borders, and then we'd settle in for the long slog to get the others to increase weight limits.”

The advantage CTP - made up of over 100 associations and companies, including Kraft Foods, MillerCoors and International Paper - sees in the current legislative push to beef up truck weights vs. previous efforts is they have at hand recent studies that indicate highway safety would improve.

A 2009 Wisconsin Department of Transportation study found that if a law like H.R. 1799 had been in place in 2006, it would have prevented 90 truck-related accidents in the state during 2006 - and companies would have saved more than $150 million in transportation costs. Similarly, in 2001, Great Britain raised the gross vehicle weight limit for six-axle trucks to 44 tons (97,000 lbs) and, since then, fatal truck-related accident rates declined by 35%.

“Accident rates among heavy vehicles are strongly tied to the vehicle miles a truck must travel to deliver a ton of freight, and trucks now travel twice as many miles as they did when the current federal weight limit was set,” Runyan noted.

“Freight hauled by trucks in the U.S. is expected to double by 2025, and truck traffic is growing 11 times faster than road capacity,” he added. “[So] a proposal like H.R. 1799 would reduce the number of vehicles-miles and the overall number of trucks needed to deliver a specific amount of freight, reducing hazardous vehicle miles traveled and cutting fuel and emissions by 19% for each ton carried.”