Opinions mixed on trucking bill set to go before U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee

MORGANTOWN — Opinions are mixed on a renewed effort by segments of the trucking industry to allow larger twin-trailers trucks on U.S. highways. Advocates say it will improve highway safety and efficiency, opponents say just the opposite.

The renewed effort comes in the form of a proposed amendment to the 2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD, pronounced t-hud) bill that will go before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday June 7. The current federal limit for 80,000-pound twin-trailer rigs is 28.5 feet per trailer; the amendment, if approved, would increase the length to 33 feet.

A similar effort died in 2015 when the amendments were stricken from the bill on the Senate floor.

West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin, D, and Shelley Moore Capito, R, both sit on Appropriations and will be considering the issue. A citizens group called Coalition Against Bigger Trucks opposes the legislation and contacted The Dominion Post about the issue.

Coalition spokesman Shane Reese called the legislation an “impending and very serious threat.”

Reese said the change would make the roads less safe. He cited a 2015 U.S. Department of Transportation study that indicates the 33-footers require 22 more feet to come to a stop than the current versions – 252 feet compared to 230.

He also noted that bigger trucks tend to have more out-of-service violations and cited a 2016 report that found that trucks with such violations are 362 percent more likely to be involved in a crash. And a 2000 DOT Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study found that multi-trailer trucks have an 11 percent higher fatal crash rate than single-trailer trucks.

He said the perception that this legislation would chiefly affect western states with straighter, flatter highways is incorrect and West Virginia will see an influx of big, double trailers not only on interstates, but other roads.

“The Coalition Against Bigger Trucks understands that trucks are important for West Virginia’s economy, and the trucking industry plays a vital role,” he said. “However even truck drivers and truck companies will often tell you that longer and heavier trucks are simply too dangerous to run on our public highways.”

Industry views

Within the industry, The Coalition for Efficient & Responsible Trucking, Americans for Modern Transportation and the American Trucking Associations all support longer trailers, backed by such companies as companies such as FedEx, Amazon, UPS and the National Retail Federation.

In their writings on the topic, they say longer trailers are more stable and less likely to roll over than the 28-footers. They will lower fuel consumption, reduce congestion and reduce vehicle miles traveled and road wear.

On the other hand, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes the longer trailers.

The U.S. DOT has been somewhat ambivalent. It says the question is a policy matter and there’s not enough data – regarding crashes and other issues – to draw a conclusion. In 2105, DOT Under Secretary Peter Rogoff wrote to House and Senate transportation committee members saying that the data is so scarce, results of allowing larger trucks can’t be predicted. He urged them to delay any action until more facts are available.

West Virginia views

In West Virginia, the Chiefs of Police Association is known to oppose the measure, but President Joseph Martin could not be reached for comment in time for this report.

The West Virginia Trucking Association favors the change. Daniel Hall, director of Government Affairs, said it affects a couple members, such as FedEx and UPS. Their trailer boxes fill up before they reach their weight limit, so the increased size would grant them more efficiency.

He noted that the association hasn’t taken a position on increased weight limits only increased trailer sizes.

“Obviously safety is a concern,” he said. “One of top priorities is always safety. Truck accidents, nobody wants that at all.”

He understands, he said, that the change would affect traffic in the western states and there’s no intention for the bigger trucks to be on everyday, secondary roads.

“The citizens of West Virginia would not have anything to worry about,” he said.

Capito was out of office on Friday and could not be reached for comment.

Manchin provided a brief statement via email: “In West Virginia we are blessed with mountains, but that means our roads and highways are easily damaged and that we need to use extreme caution while driving.

“Adding heavier and longer trucks onto our already strained system would only make matters worse. That’s why I have consistently opposed efforts to increase truck size and weight. When local officials and law enforcement officers tell me that something will make us less safe, I listen.”

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