STATEMENT OF GARTH DULL FOR THE SENATE EPW COMMITTEE
September 30, 2002
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My name is Garth Dull and I am here today to represent Nevada for Safe Roads, a highway safety coalition focused on keeping trucks from getting longer and heavier. Among the members of our coalition are the Nevada Conference of Police and Sheriffs, the Alliance for Retired Americans, and the AFL-CIO. Attached is a full membership list.
I have both hands-on and policy experience with the issue of truck size and weight from my more than 30 years as a practicing highway engineer and senior policy official with the Nevada Department of Transportation. I served as Director of NDOT from 1986 until 1995, during which time I was responsible for the agency’s budget and oversaw the design, construction, and maintenance of over 5000 miles of roads and bridges. Truck size and weight directly impacts each. The heaviest trucks would tear up the pavements and reduce bridge life yet fail to pay their fair share of highway costs.
I know that there are a number of proposals to allow trucks to get longer and heavier. Let me say right now: That would be a bad idea. Trucks are big enough. If you allow them to get any bigger, they will wreak havoc on our highway infrastructure and cause more fatal crashes. There is no question about that.
Bigger Trucks Would Tear Up Our Roads and Bridges
In my tenure at NDOT, like all DOTs, we designed roads and bridges to accommodate projected heavy truck traffic. Most of Nevada’s bridges — 70-80%, in fact — were built before 1975, meaning they were not built to accommodate the weight or number of trucks on the road today. NDOT completed a study in 1994 showing that some of the heavy trucks using our roads today overstress our older simple span bridges by as much as 30% beyond their design parameters.1 While no one can quantify exactly what truck weight does to bridge life, we know that it does shorten it. Bridges are designed with a safety margin to ensure against bridge failure. Bigger trucks erode that margin, increasing the number of bridges that must be replaced, strengthened, or posted.
About 15% of Nevada’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, meaning they are in need of serious repair.2 There is an even worse backlog nationwide: Nearly 30% of bridges nationwide are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.3 The US Department of Transportation found in its 2000 Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study that allowing bigger trucks nationwide would only increase the number of bridges that must be upgraded. Longer combination vehicles (LCVs) — long double and triple trailer trucks — would alone mean $319 billion in additional bridge costs.4
Heavier trucks also have the potential to decrease pavement life, particularly when weight is added without adding additional axles. The American Association of Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) determined in its 1950’s Road Test that pavement damage increases exponentially with the weight of a truck. For example, one 80,000-pound five-axle truck does the same road damage as 9,600 cars. A seven-axle triple does as much damage as more than 27,000 cars. In a number of states, five-axle trucks operate well above 80,000 pounds. A number of states allow five-axle trucks to operate above 80,000 pounds on the Interstate highways under claims of grandfather rights.
The number of axles a triple trailer truck has is directly related to the amount of pavement damage it causes. Some triple trailer trucks will operate with nine axles, which is easier on pavements, but in Nevada, triples can run at 119,000 pounds with only seven axles. Seven axles give the operators the greatest payload per axle.
The Heaviest Trucks Fail To Pay Their Fair Share
To add insult to injury, the heaviest trucks fail to pay their fair share of road costs. The 2000 Federal Highway Cost Allocation Study found that heavy trucks on the road today underpay their share of highway costs by nearly$1.9 billion.5 Triple trailer trucks pay 70% of their costs through fuel taxes, long doubles pay 60%, and 80,000-pound singles pay 80%. A single operating at 90,000 pounds, as some proposals suggest, would pay only 50-60% of its costs.6
NDOT found that Nevada’s motorists subsidized heavy trucks for 15 of the 19 years between 1984 and 1998, when the agency completed its last highway cost allocation study. When I was Director of NDOT, I asked our state legislature to enact a cost recovery system. Between 1985 and 1989, the legislature enacted a tax structure that required trucks to pay their fair share of highway costs. Unfortunately, the legislature repealed this system in 1989.7 Since then, underpayments have gotten consistently worse. In fact, heavy trucks underpaid by $335 million in the 1998-1999 biennium.8
To simply maintain Nevada’s roads and bridges at the current level of service will take an additional $1.8 billion over the next 10 years.9 Simply maintaining our nation’s roads and bridges will take $1.13 trillion over the next 20 years.1° Bigger trucks would only mean higher costs.
Bigger Trucks Would Be More Dangerous
As you know, the Federal government has responsibility for setting maximum truck weight limits on the Interstate Highway System, and for regulating the maximum length and weight of LCVs pursuant to the 1991 LCV Freeze. Our highways are dangerous enough as it is. Nearly 3,500 large trucks were involved in crashes in Nevada in the year 2000.11 Increasing the weight of the typical tractor-trailer and expanding the routes on which LCVs are allowed to operate would put everyday motorists in even more danger.
In August of 2000, the US Department of Transportation completed its Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study (US DOT Study). In this study, the US DOT found that LCVs are likely to have fatal accident involvement rates at least 11% higher than today’s single tractor-trailers.12
There is good reason to believe that the fatal accident rate for LCVs could be much higher. Trucks with multiple trailers have extra “articulation points,” the points where the tractor and trailers hook up. These articulation points can add instability. One measure of stability is rearward amplification: After the tractor makes an evasive maneuver, a lateral force moves down the truck so that the rear trailer snaps back, much like creating a “crack-the-whip” effect. The US DOT Study found that on this measure of stability triples show more than 200% poorer performance than single tractor-trailers.13
Another problem with articulation points is trailer sway. In 1984, the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) conducted its Longer Combination Vehicles Operational Test (CalTrans Operational Test), and found that the third trailer on a triple trailer truck swayed constantly from side-to-side from four-to-six inches to as much as three-to-four feet, even on a straight road on a windless day.14
Because they are so big and so slow, LCVs have difficulty maintaining speed on upgrades, creating serious safety risks. During the CalTrans Operational Test, triples and long doubles on 3% to 4% grades achieved speeds that were 15mph to 22mph slower than the mean speed for single trailer trucks.15 Slow trucks and fast cars are a dangerous combination. According to a 1981 University of Texas study, a speed differential of 15 mph increases accident risk nine times.16
Heavier single trailer trucks would also be more dangerous. Heavier single tractor-trailers will tend to have a higher center of gravity. Raising the center of gravity increases the risk of dangerous rollovers.17 In Nevada, 115 large trucks were involved in rollover crashes in the year 2000.18 I recently passed the scene of a rollover crash in the “Spaghetti Bowl,” where 1-80 and I-580 meet in Reno. A truck took a curve a little too fast and rolled over, backing up traffic for miles.
Increasing truck weight is also likely to lead to brake maintenance problems. Roadside inspections continually show that brake adjustment levels are a serious issue. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance found during its Roadcheck 2000 that almost 30% of the vehicles inspected had brakes far enough out of adjustment to be taken out of service.19 Heavier singles often have an extra axle at the rear of the truck to prevent additional pavement damage, and on that axle are two additional brakes. The US DOT expressed specific concern about the ability to maintain those extra brakes.2° When brakes are out of adjustment, trucks can take substantially longer to stop. In one study, an 80,000-pound truck took 300 feet — the length of a football field — to come to a complete stop from 60mph on a dry road. When that truck’s brakes were put out of adjustment to the level at which a law enforcement officer would take the truck out of service, the truck took 450 feet to come to a complete stop.21
Heavier weights also cause more severe accidents. According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), “The general point is that the energy to be dissipated in a collision, and hence the damage done, increases with weight, and that the probability of injury increases with increasing disparity of weights in two-vehicle collisions.”22 This is simple physics:
Force equals mass times velocity. When you increase the mass — in this case, the weight of the truck — you increase the force, or the severity of the crash.
Finally, longer single trailer trucks also pose a safety hazard. Longer trucks take longer to pass and to be passed by other vehicles on a two-lane road.23 Longer trailers also “swing out” into adjacent traffic lanes after the truck’s tractor has completed its turn. This off-tracking can take up to more than half the width of the oncoming traffic lane. Motorists can be caught unaware by the unexpected swingout and be hit by the extra-long trailer.24
The Transportation Research Board’s Recent Report is Faulty
In Special Report 267, issued this past May, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) recommended creating a new federal bureaucracy to oversee truck size and weight regulation, in particular permit programs and pilot projects that would put bigger trucks on our roads now and test their impacts later. This report is based neither on sound analysis nor on sound public policy. The TRB conducted no new research and presented no significant new findings on the safety and infrastructure impacts of longer and heavier trucks. In fact, they ignored or attempted to discount the many studies that show that bigger trucks would be more dangerous and would have a negative impact on roads and bridges.
Take the issue of safety. The TRB declares that there is a “substantial probability” that the safety effects of bigger trucks — or, in plain English, the dangers of increasing truck size and weight — would be large. But the TRB says that it “hopes” that the changes would contribute to safety.25
The TRB cites the US DOT’s Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study as well as a 1991 Association of American Railroads (AAR) report on the safety of multi-trailer trucks. The US DOT found that multi-trailer trucks had an overall fatal crash involvement rate 11% higher than single trailer trucks after correcting for travel distribution differences by highway type. The AAR study found that multi-trailer trucks had an even higher fatal accident rate — 66% higher than single trailer trucks.
The TRB says that the US DOT’s findings “contradict” the AAR’s findings, but the two studies support each other: they both found higher crash involvement rates for multi-trailer trucks. Because the studies were nine years apart and used different analysis periods, it is reasonable to expect some variation in crash involvement ratios. Also, travel data for multi-trailer trucks suffers from fairly high uncertainty rates that result in large variations year-to-year in apparent fatality involvement rates. Either fatal crash rate — 11% or 66% — or something in-between — is completely unacceptable.
As to bridges, the US DOT Study also concluded that there would be enormous additional bridge costs from the nationwide operation of LCVs and heavier singles. The US DOT based its analysis on a presumption that the federal and state governments would spend the resources necessary to prevent bridges from collapsing or failing. As I said earlier, it found that with nationwide operations of LCVs, the total costs of reconstructing bridges would be $53 billion, with an additional $266 billion in costs borne by highway users in extra fuel and lost productivity.
The TRB criticizes the US DOT’s methodology for overestimating bridge costs because the DOT assumed that all affected bridges would need to be replaced. At the same time, the TRB said that the DOT underestimated bridge fatigue and the need to make future bridges stronger to accommodate the heavier trucks. Yet they say that the correct analysis has yet to be conducted, meaning they do not know what the bridge costs will be.26
As I said earlier, nearly 30% of our nation’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. There is an obvious backlog on maintenance and a shortage of funding. Yet the TRB is proposing testing these trucks on our highways.
We have had LCVs in Nevada for 30 years. Nobody has said that we have not learned enough about them and certainly no one wants more of them.
Congress Should 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.
In a previous authorization debate, some suggested that Congress devolve power to the states to create their own highway design standards. Some joked that we could have green signs in Nevada and yellow signs in Wyoming, but more importantly Congress realized that there must be basic uniformity on the Federal Aid system. That is why the Federal government sets design, maintenance and construction criteria for the Federal Aid Highway System. Truck size and weight should be no exception.
If the states were allowed to set their own limits, those with higher limits would place tremendous pressure on states with lower limits to allow bigger trucks to remain economically competitive. A number of Governors and state DOT directors have already rejected the state option approach for this reason. When Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters was Arizona’s DOT Director, she wrote a letter to her Washington representatives opposing bigger trucks. In her words, while proponents of bigger trucks “argue that expanding the truck weight limit would be at a state’s discretion, Arizona could not realistically exclude larger trucks from commerce here if all of the states surrounding Arizona opt for the higher limits. Regulation of interstate commerce is clearly one of the areas reserved by the Constitution to the Congress.”27
What’s more, “state option” is the reason there are 50 different sets of truck size and weight limits on the Interstate System. Before Congress set the current size and weight limits on single trailer trucks and twin 28-foot “short” doubles in 1982, the states had jurisdiction and local pressures dictated the various limits. The trucking industry played the states off one another to get higher limits. When three states held out, the trucking industry claimed they were hurting productivity and asked Congress to force those states to raise their limits.28
For these same reasons, the western states should not be “carved out” of the Federal picture as some proponents of bigger trucks suggest. The West does have wide-open spaces and a greater distance between communities, but we also have many mountainous areas that make heavy truck operations treacherous. Truck operators do not always upgrade their engines to accommodate extra weight, and for that reason triple trailer trucks are often the slowest trucks on the road. Driving up steep grades, that power-to-weight ratio becomes even worse. The CalTrans Operational Test proved this point. CalTrans drove a triple trailer truck up the Grapevine, a 6% grade pass on 1-5. The triple was the slowest truck on the road and blocked traffic in the right lane. The lighter trucks passed the triple in the two lanes to the left, leaving only one lane for cars.29
Driving down steep grades can also mean serious braking problems. According to UMTRI, “Given that the pounds of brake mass to pounds of vehicle mass is limited for trucks, there is a greater tendency for truck brakes to overheat than there is for car brakes.”3° In other words, a truck’s brakes can overheat when in constant use going down a hill. When that happens, the brakes fail to work properly, particularly when brakes are out of adjustment which, as I noted earlier, they often are.31 That is why we build truck escape ramps.
Finally, a recent AAR study found that bigger trucks would result in 1,000 additional LCVs each day on 1-15 from Chicago to Los Angeles. That is a tremendous amount of truck traffic.
The Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act
I am here today to ask you to reject any increases in truck size and weight. But I also ask you to 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, which has been introduced in the House of Representatives, would put a stop to these backdoor increases. The bill would establish common sense truck size and weight limits on the National Highway System and close loopholes in the law that allow longer and heavier trucks. I urge you to support a similar measure in the Senate.
This is what the bill would do:
1. The bill would freeze all current trailer lengths on the NHS.
Trucks have been getting longer. There is no Federal trailer length maximum, only a minimum of 48 feet. The standard trailer length has increased over time from 25 feet in 1946 to 53 feet today. Eleven states allow trailers 57 feet or longer to operate regularly, with more than half of these having legalized the extra long trailers since 1990.32 H.R. 3132 would freeze all current trailer lengths on the National Highway System.
2. The bill would freeze all overweight permitting practices.
Trucks have been getting heavier on our Interstate highways. Truck operators are applying for — and getting — more “multiple trip divisible load” permits to run well over the Federal legal limit. States that issue these permits claim grandfather rights to allow trucks to operate over the Federal legal limit. H.R. 3132 would freeze all overweight permitting practices.
3. The bill would extend the Federal Interstate weight limits to the entire National Highway System, grandfathering in higher weights. The bill would also extend the LCV Freeze to the entire NHS.
Trucks have also been getting heavier on the non-Interstate portions of the NHS.
Federal truck weight limits, including the LCV Freeze established by ISTEA in 1991, are limited to the 44,000-mile Interstate Highway System. By contrast, state weight limits apply to the more than 156,000 miles of NHS.
In June of 2001, Ohio raised the allowable tandem axle weight on NHS routes from the Federal limit of 34,000 pounds to 40,000 pounds. Georgia raised the allowable tandem axle weight on NHS routes from 37,340 pounds to 40,680 pounds three years ago.
If NHS weights continue to rise across the country, Congress will be faced with similar pushes for heavier Interstate weight limits.
4. The bill would address illegal overweight operations.
About 10-20 percent of trucks are operating illegally overweight.33 The US DOT says that a truck operator who runs at 10,000 pounds over the Federal legal limit for one year will earn an extra $25,000.34 That is a huge profit incentive, especially when fines across the country often do not even cover the cost of filing the paperwork for the citation, let along acting as any sort of deterrent.35 H.R. 3132 would direct the US DOT to establish a model fine system.
The Federal government has a responsibility to keep trucks from becoming bigger and more dangerous. I ask that you support this measure.
Thank you for inviting me to testify today. I am happy to answer any of your questions.
1 Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) (Bridge Study) 1994
2 US DOT’s National Bridge Inventory, 2000.
3 US DOT, 1999 Status Report on the Nation’s Highways, Bridges and Transit: Conditions and Performance, Report to Congress, p. 3-14.
4 US DOT Study, Vol. III, Table Vl-2, p. Vl-2.
5 Federal Highway Administration, Federal Highway Cost Allocation Study, 2000 Addendum (Federal HCAS), unpublished Table 3: Federal Over and Underpayment by 20 Vehicle Classes.
6 Federal HCAS, unpublished Table Vl-5: Federal Equity Ratios for Selected Vehicle Classes Based on Registered Weights.
7 NDOT, 1999 Highway Cost Allocation Study (Nevada HCAS), p. 8.
8 Nevada HCAS, Table 17, pp. 31 & 37.
9 NDOT, (Report), August 2000.
10 US DOT’s Status Report, Exhibit 7-1, p. 7-5.
11 NDOT, 2000 Nevada Traffic Crashes (NDOT Crash Report), p. 23.
12 US Department of Transportation, Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study (US DOT Study), August 2000, Volume Ill: Scenario Analysis, p. Vlll-5.
13 US DOT Study, Vol. III, Figure Vlll-1 1, p. Vlll-12.
14 California Department of Transportation, Longer Combination Vehicles Operational Test (CalTrans Operational Test), 1984, video narrative accompanying the written report.
15 CalTrans Operational Test, Fig. 9, p. 41.
16 University of Texas Center for Transportation Research, An Assessment of Changes in Truck Dimensions on Highway Geometric Design Principles and Practices, 1981.
17 US DOT Study, Vol. III, p. Vlll-8.
18 NDOT Crash Report, p. 26.
19 Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, Final Report on Roadcheck 2000, Appendix A.
20 US DOT Study, Vol. III, p. Vlll-1 1.
21 Richard Radlinski of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Braking Performance of Heavy U.S. Vehicles,” Society of Automotive Engineers Technical Paper Series, International Congress and Exposition, Detroit, Ml, February 23-27, 1987, Figures 9 & 16, pp. 8 & 12.
22 US DOT Study, Phase 1, Working Papers 1 & 2: Vehicle Characteristics Affecting Safety, prepared by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, 1995, p. 38.
23 US DOT Study, Vol. III, p. Vlll-1 1.
24 US DOT Study, Phase 1, Working Paper 5: Roadway Geometry, prepared by the Battelle Team, 1995, Fig. 1, p. 4.
25 Transportation Research Board, Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vehicles (TRB Report), Special Report 267, May 16, 2002, p.3-21.
26 TRB Report, pp. 2-21 - 2-23.
27 Other state officials who have written letters (of which I am aware) are the Secretaries of the Florida Department of Transportation and the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department; the Illinois Secretary of State; and the Governors of Arkansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada and Rhode Island.
28 Oral statement of Edward V. Kiley, Senior Vice President, American Trucking Associations before the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, US House of Representatives, May 4, 1982.
29 CalTrans Operational Test, video narrative accompanying the written report.
30 US DOT Study, Phase 1, Working Papers 1 & 2, p. 13.
31 Radlinski for NHTSA, pp. 11-12.
32 The eleven states and their year of legalization are Oklahoma (1983), Wyoming (1984), Louisiana (1985), New Mexico (1986), Texas (1989), Colorado (1990), Kansas (1991), Arizona (1991), Florida (1992), Mississippi (1993) and Alabama (1993).
33 US DOT Study, Phase 1, Working Paper 10: Enforcement, prepared by the Battelle Team, 1995, pp. 2-3 and Transportation Research Board, Special Report 225, Truck Weight Limits: Issues and Options, National Academy of Sciences, 1990, p. 141.
34 Church and Mergel, Effectiveness of Violator Penalties in Compelling Compliance with State Truck Weight Limits, prepared for the US DOT, September 2000, p. 12.
35 See Church and Mergel, pp. 19 & 20 for a list of first offense fines by state. In the contiguous states, the lowest fine for a 10,000-pound illegal overload is $55 in Delaware; the highest is $2,625 in South Dakota
Nevada for Safe Roads
State and Regional Organizations
Nevada Conference of Police & Sheriffs (NCOPS)
Nevada State AFL-CIO
Nevada Alliance for Retired Americans (NARA)
Nevada Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
Peace Officers Research Association of Nevada (PORAN)
Southern Nevada Council UAW Retirees
Southern Nevada Fire Chiefs Association
Southern Nevada Fire Prevention Association
Clark County Chapter 4530 NARA
Clark County Commission
Las Vegas Police Protective Association
Reno Police Protective Association
Republican Women of Reno
Teamsters Local 533
Teamsters Local 631
Washoe County Commission
Washoe County Medical Society
Andy Anderson, President, NCOPS
Charlie Cox, President UAW Local 2162, Sparks
Garth Dull, former DOT Director
Jane Feldman, Conservation Chair, Southern Nevada Group of the Sierra Club
Clarence Fend, AARP
The Honorable Bob Ferraro, City of Boulder City
Robert “Bob” Forbuss, Vice Chair, Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority
Dario Herrera, Chairman, Clark County Commission
The Honorable Charles Home, City of Mesquite
Jim Hulse, retired Professor of History
Wayne R. King, Teamsters Construction Division
Helen Klatt, PhD, Past President, Nevada Federation of Republican Women
Cheryl Lau, former Secretary of State
Stan Olsen, Government Liaison, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police
Bette Renwick, President, Republican Women of Henderson
Ken Riddle, President, Southern Nevada Fire Chiefs Association
Danny Thompson, Secretary-Treasurer, AFL-CIO
Linda Wilcock, President-Elect, Greater Federation of Women’s Clubs