Pointing to productivity and safety benefits, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) announced Thursday that he will introduce legislation to allow 91,000-lb., six-axle tractor-trailers on the federal interstate highway system.

The Safe, Flexible and Efficient Trucking Act (Safe Trucking Act) will be offered as an amendment to the surface transportation reauthorization, or highway bill, expected to be taken up in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) next week.

Speaking on a teleconference with members of the news media, Ribble explained the extra axle would distribute the weight load and actually improve braking power, compared to a 5-axle rig at 80,000 pounds. And current infrastructure standards can support 91,000-lb., six-axle loads without additional “rehab costs” to Interstate bridges, based on a “deep dive on the data” in the recently released DOT truck size and weight study.

Additionally, he expects an increased weight limit on federal interstate highways would shift some truck traffic away from those state highways where higher limits are currently permitted.

“For me, it’s not just about productivity, but it’s the increased safety by having fewer trucks moving more product in a safer manner,” Ribble said. “Our roads are already heavily crowded. This 13% increase in capacity is heavily significant in moving more freight with fewer vehicles. This would also result in reduced fuel costs and CO2 emissions.”

He cited the immediate benefits to Wisconsin’s paper mills as an example of improved freight efficiency with heavier trucks.

Indeed, the congressman’s remarks were followed by representatives from a variety of industries that contend the truck weight increase would aid global competitiveness.

American Forest & Paper Assn. President and CEO Donna Harman, who noted that competitors in Canada and Mexico already benefit from higher truck weight limits, said that the number of truck trips for forest products could be reduced by approximately 1.4 million each year under Ribble’s bill. More specifically, Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Assn., said that a 5,000-truck dairy fleet could serve its 150,000 delivery locations with 500 fewer trucks.

James Sembrot, senior director of transportation at Anheuser-Busch InBev, called the Safe Trucking Act “common sense policy that everybody can support,” and explained that his company ships more than a million truckloads of beer and raw materials each year—and many of those trailers are 60% empty due to the current weight restrictions. The 91,000-lb. limit would permit Anheuser-Busch to take 100,000 trucks a year off of the highway. He also estimated the cost of adding a sixth axle would be about $7,400 per trailer.

The Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP), a group of 200 manufacturers, shippers, carriers and allied associations whose primary aim is to support such legislation, organized the press conference.

“Truck travel has grown 22 times faster than road capacity since the federal weight limit was last changed in 1982,” said John Runyan, executive director of CTP. “Recognizing that more than 70 percent of freight must be shipped by truck, we need to confront the highway capacity crunch now if our country is to remain competitive. The Safe Trucking Act safely improves the productivity of truck shipments so we can decrease the truckloads necessary to meet demand and make our entire transportation network more efficient.”

That the 6-axle configuration is “bridge-formula compliant” and actually saves money on pavement restoration makes the bill “a game changer,” Runyan added. He also pointed out that the legislation would allow DOT to specify additional safety equipment for any trucks operating at the 91,000-lb.  limit.

“They have the ability to make this a world-class truck for the movement of heavy goods, if they so choose,” Runyan said.