Cash Market Moves

Ag Groups Disappointed; Will Continue to Advocate for SAFE

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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Loading sunflowers onto a semi-truck during harvest in Zeeland, North Dakota. (Photo courtesy of Mark Rohrich)

Many ag groups were disappointed with the U.S. House of Representative vote against an amendment allowing heavier truck weights on interstate highways and vow to continue to push for the increase.

On Nov. 3, the U.S. House of Representatives voted against an amendment in the highway bill that would have allowed states the option of increasing weight limits on interstate highways from 80,000 to 91,000 pounds for trucks with additional sixth axles. The $325 billion, six-year highway bill passed Nov. 5, minus the proposed change in weight limits.

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) issued a press release applauding the House of Representatives for approving the six-year transportation bill, but said they "will continue to advocate for provisions not included in the bill. For instance, the Association supported the Safe, Flexible, and Efficient (SAFE) Trucking Act, sponsored by Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., that would have allowed trucks with six axles to transport up to 91,000 pounds on interstate highways. The federal weight limit for interstate highways has been set at 80,000 pounds since 1982."

"Federal highway truck weight limits currently are lower than most state road weight limits, and this inconsistency presents obstacles to efficient movement of U.S. grains," said NGFA Director of Economics and Government Affairs Max Fisher. "Our organization, as well as the rest of the coalition that supports the amendment, is evaluating how to proceed in our efforts to update truck weight limits on Interstate highways."

MANY STATES ALLOW HEAVIER WEIGHTS FOR FARMERS, BUT NOT ON INTERSTATE

Soy Transportation Coalition (STC) Executive Director Mike Steenhoek told DTN, "It is correct that certain Western states have weight allowances on their state (and sometimes on federal) roads that exceed the 80,000-pound limit. For those states, the six-axle, 91,000-pounds configuration would not be as consequential. For the majority of the country, though, having this increased weight limit would benefit agriculture and a host of additional industries."

"The railroads were certainly working to oppose this amendment. The reality is that truck and rail are increasingly not interchangeable modes of transportation. It's more a hub-and-spoke system -- rail are the hubs; trucks are the spokes. That's why we would witness a very modest amount of diversion from rail to truck if the Ribble amendment is adopted."

Steenhoek said, "Supporters of the amendment represented a significant percentage of the freight moved in this country, so we were able to exert influence as well. It just wasn't enough. One of the biggest problems is that many of those representatives in highly urban areas -- who don't have constituent engagement on issues like freight transportation efficiency -- simply voted no without delving into the pros and cons of the legislation."

When asked about the future of SAFE, Steenhoek said, "I don't see a path forward in the near future. The concept itself certainly isn't dead -- we do need to find a way to increase trucking efficiency in a safe, responsible manner. However, for the immediate term, I don't see a legislative vehicle that will allow this to move forward in the near future."

Bob Zelenka, executive director of the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association, told DTN, "We were certainly disappointed in the outcome of the vote. In Minnesota, 'raw and unprocessed agricultural commodities' are allowed to be hauled up to 90,000 pounds on six axles and up to 97,000 pounds on seven axles. In the winter 'freeze period,' you are allowed to haul up to 99,000 pounds on six axles or seven axles. Unfortunately, this allowance does not apply to the interstate system in Minnesota, which is why we were actively supporting the Ribble amendment and for all the right reasons."

North Dakota DOT allows a 10% weight increase permit which is valid July 15 to Nov. 30. This permit allows a vehicle 10% more weight when hauling a harvested farm product from the field to the first point of storage. "Solid waste, sugar beets, and potatoes may be hauled from any location to a point of storage with 10% more weight. The weight exemption permit is valid for 10% over legal axle weights and/or 10% over legal exterior bridge distance (measurement between extreme axle centers), whichever is more restrictive. The fee is $50 per 30-day period."

South Dakota DOT allows vehicles hauling agricultural products from a harvesting combine to the point of first unloading a tolerance of 10% in excess of the legal limits. "These vehicles may not exceed a speed of 50 miles per hour, and are only granted this tolerance within a range of 50 miles from the harvested field. This tolerance is not permitted on the interstate highway system. Vehicles hauling agricultural products from farm storage or livestock from a farm are given a tolerance of 5% in excess of the legal limits. These vehicles may not exceed a speed of 50 miles per hour, and are only granted this tolerance within a range of 50 miles of the loading site. Such vehicles may not exceed any posted weight of any bridge or road. This tolerance does not apply during spring load restrictions and is not permitted on the interstate highway system."

Mark Rohrich, Rohrich Farms, Zeeland, North Dakota, told DTN, "I would have like to have seen the increases in freight efficiencies on the interstates by increasing payload. It would have been especially beneficial for our agriculture freight up here like cattle, commodities and fertilizer as they utilize interstate highways. Right now many trucks in North Dakota and South Dakota have to avoid the interstate travel to keep the opportunities to carry more payloads per trip on state highways. Trucks with higher gross loads and the right axle combinations carry loads safely. Trucking regulations will continue to reduce number of drivers and companies that are operating."

Mary Kennedy can be reached at mary.kennedy@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @MaryCKenn

(CZ/AG)