Ag Policy Blog

House Rejects Heavier Semi-Trailer Weights on Interstates

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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This blog has been updated based on a floor vote Tuesday night.

I was going to go with "Life is a Highway," headline where I'm a firm believer that Tom Cochrane's version is way better than Rascal Flatts could ever do.

But for some reason Jerry Reed is in my head, maybe because like every good country boy from the '70s, I still love Smokey and the Bandit. But the opening stanza of "East Bound and Down," is somewhat symbolic of what is going on as the House and Senate try to get a real highway bill done.

"East bound and down, loaded up and truckin,'

We gonna do what they say can't be done,

We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there ..."

Why do they say it can't be done? Well, we are on our 35th extension of the old highway bill -- I think it was one of those Ice Tea bills -- and we don't have a long-term bill yet.

The House began floor debate Tuesday on the rule regarding a six-year highway funding bill, a House alternative to the Senate bill.

Actual debate started late Tuesday on the highway bill HR 3763, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015. (It's not a credible House bill if the word "reform" is not included somewhere in the title. They really want you to know they made changes somewhere in the bill.)

The bill, once passed and conferenced with a Senate bill, would end the series of 35 short-term extensions of the bill. It's a six-year bill that would end up spending, on average, about $50.4 billion a year on national highway projects.

Specifically for highway projects, the funding would be about $285 billion from 2016-2021. Another roughly $18 billion over that time would go to a variety of other transportation programs.

The bill doesn't address the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which already has its own built-up shortfall of $52 billion and would increase the shortfall in the trust fund by roughly $6 billion. The House has sought to avoid any kind of increase in fuel taxes in the bill.

The bill does streamline some of the environmental reviews and permits that can slow down highway projects. It also gives more options to local governments to allowing them to address their local issues. It also slightly boosts the percent of Surface Transportation Program going to local governments from 50% to 55%.

Updated informaiton:

Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., had introduced his bill, the "Safe Trucking Act," which would increase weight limits on the interstate system by allowing six-axle, 91,000 pound semi-trucks. Currently, the weight limit is 80,000 pounds.

Among the arguments in favor, the Soy Transportation Coalition stated, "For transporting agricultural products, allowing six-axle, 91,000 lbs. semis will result in fewer truck trips, fewer gallons of fuel consumed, fewer tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and reduced fuel costs.

"The use of a six axle, 91,000 lbs. semi will enable a farmer to transport an additional 137 bushels of soybeans or wheat or 146 additional bushels of corn per load."

Several groups lined up against it. Police, sheriffs, state trooper groups oppose it, as do the National Association of Counties, AAA and the National League of Cities. Behind all that opposition also is the American Association of Railroads. The Railroads see heavier truck weights as creating more direct competition.

Railroad groups campaigned aggressively against the measure, arguing it "will cost taxpayers billions of dollars in damaged roads and bridges while further straining already depleted federal coffers,” said Ed Hamberger, Association of American Railroads president and CEO. “The amendment should be parked.”

Opponents argued that the 91,000-pound limit would require more engineering, repairs or replacements of nearly 5,000 bridges, according to a Department of Transportation study.

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On Tuesday night, the House of Representatives rejected an effort pushed by the semi-truck industry, and backed by groups such as the Soy Transportation Coalition, to permit six-axle, 91,000 pound semi-trailers on the interstate system.

The proposed floor amendment to the highway bill failed with 187 yes votes to 236 no votes. The clerk vote showed 74 Republicans joined 162 Democrats to defeat the proposal.

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