STATEMENT OF WILLIAM D. ANKNER, Ph.D.
DIRECTOR, RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
SUBMITTED TO THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
U.S. SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
SEPTEMBER 30, 2002
Thank you for the opportunity to submit this statement on an issue that has very serious implications for the quality of our highway infrastructure, and which I understand has already been discussed in previous hearings before this Committee. I speak of the issue of truck size and weight and of the disproportionate amount of pavement and bridge damage caused by heavy trucks – and more specifically, of the huge increases in infrastructure damage we would experience if current truck size and weight limits are relaxed, as some are advocating.
Since 1996 I have had the honor of serving as Director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation. I am also a past president of the Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials, a past member of the Executive Committee of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and a member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Executive Committee.
I understand the compelling pressures at issue in the debate over truck sizes and weights, with some arguing forcefully that rapidly growing demand for freight transport necessitates legislation to permit the operation of longer and heavier trucks on our Interstate Highways.
While I appreciate the economic arguments for larger and heavier trucks, I could not disagree more strongly with the conclusion. While the advocates of lifting the current restrictions can cite studies, including a recent TRB report, which appear to support their arguments in favor of increased truck sizes and weights, other more authoritative studies and reports – and my own long experience – convince me that if anything, Congress should strengthen the existing limits.
The trucking industry has been masterful in shaping this issue. The incremental increases have been just enough for them to argue that their impact on safety and the infrastructure is similar to current conditions. The problem is that the total culmination of the increases poses a serious threat to safety and the infrastructure, particularly the aging and design-deficient infrastructure in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states. Congress needs to examine this issue not solely on the basis of what these impacts are compared to current conditions, but where we have come from and where we want to go. In my judgement, the size and weight where we have come from has exceeded the structural and operational capacity of the highway system in Rhode Island. Similarly, I believe that longer and heavier trucks should not be our future in the Northeast.
There are three central reasons for maintaining or strengthening current federal limits on truck size and weight: bigger trucks would cause massive increases in infrastructure damage, particularly to bridges; they do not fully pay for the damage they cause; and they would make our highways more dangerous both for motorists and for truck drivers.
Heavy trucks are already responsible for a disproportionate amount of pavement damage: at the current federal limit of 80,000-pounds, a five-axle truck does as much damage as 9,600 cars. Adding weight to the same truck will sharply increase pavement damage: at 100,000 pounds the truck will do as much damage as 27,000 cars. (Calculations are based on AASHTO’s Road Test.) Bigger trucks will also cause a massive increase in bridge costs. According to the 2000 US Department of Transportation Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study (US DOT Study), national operations of longer combination vehicles – long double and triple trailer trucks – would cost the country $319 billion ($53 billion in capital costs and $266 billion in user delay costs). (US DOT Study, August 2000, Vol. III, p. VI-12.)
Even without building new highways, the US will need to spend $1.132 trillion per year simply to maintain the condition of the current bridge and highway system. (US DOT, 1999 Status Report on the Nation’s Highways, Bridges, and Transit, Exhibit 7-1, p. 7-5.) The infrastructure damage and new costs that would result from a weakening of current truck size and weight limits would add considerably to this already staggering figure.
In Rhode Island, 60% of our bridges are already structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. For FY 2003, we are faced with $110 million of bridge and highway restoration that we are unable to undertake. Most of my counterparts in other states are also suffering from a lack of funding to cover necessary road and bridge repairs.
Moreover, bigger trucks substantially underpay their share of highway costs, according to the Federal Highway Cost Allocation Study. For example, a five-axle truck registered at 80,000 pounds pays only 80% of its highway costs. Long double trailer trucks and triples pay 70%. Heavier trucks pay even less of their costs. For example, one 100,000-pound five-axle truck pays 40% of its costs. (2000 Addendum to the Federal Highway Cost Allocation Study, unpublished Table 3.)
In addition to these issues of infrastructure damage and cost underpayment, bigger trucks will be less safe.
In the Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study, USDOT compared the safety of multi-trailer trucks to single trailer trucks. It found that multi-trailer trucks “could be expected to experience an 11 percent higher overall fatal crash rate than single-trailer combinations.” (p. VIII-5.) Heavier single trailer trucks will also be more dangerous. According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, there is a strong statistical link between higher weights and a greater risk of fatalities. (US DOT Study, Phase 1, Working Paper 1 & 2, 1995, p. 37.) One reason is that heavier singles will tend to have a higher center of gravity, making them more likely to roll over. (US DOT Study, p. VIII-8.)
For all of these reasons, I believe it is imperative that Congress retain jurisdiction over truck size and weight on the Federal System. Proponents of bigger trucks have asked for a “state option” plan whereby the states would be able to set their own truck size and weight limits on the most important part of the Federal system: the Interstate Highways. But any law regarding the national transportation system should have national oversight.
This state option ploy by the industry has been tried before. The trucking industry is only interested in a “state option” so that it can then come back and show how harmful states that have not increased size and weight are to the economy and interstate commerce, and unfair to the trucking industry that has invested 100’s of millions of dollars in new equipment that they cannot optimally use. The industry will then call upon Congress to use the Interstate Commerce Clause to correct the inequities and allow the bigger trucks. They did with doubles. They are trying to do it again.
Congress should reject any proposals to increase truck size and weight. But Congress should also take it one step further. There are loopholes in the current law that allow trucks to get longer and heavier, and weights on the National Highway System (NHS) are being ratcheted up. The Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act, H.R. 3132, which has been introduced in the House of Representatives, would put a stop to these backdoor increases. The bill would freeze truck size and weight limits on the National Highway System and close loopholes in the law that allow longer and heavier trucks. The Senate should consider a similar measure.
In Rhode Island as elsewhere in the nation, highway users have grown all too accustomed to the delays and hazards that have become commonplace on our aging highway system. As the Committee prepares to reauthorize the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century and to reinvest in maintaining and improving the highway infrastructure, I hope you will also maintain or strengthen the current, common sense limitations on truck size and weight.