Putting bigger and heavier trucks on our roads and highways is deeply unpopular.

A 2018 poll finds that 4 in 5 Americans oppose select efforts in Congress to boost truck sizes, including legislation that would allow trucks that are 17 feet longer to traverse among the traveling public.

Perhaps this is why powerful business groups continue to lobby House and Senate Appropriations bodies to sneak in a provision for longer trucks within a massive spending bill. Given how unpopular such changes would be, passing standalone legislation on longer trucks is unrealistic.

A diverse set of stakeholders publicly oppose bigger trucks for a number of reasons — deteriorating infrastructure, labor implications, traffic congestion and safety concerns — and the private freight railroad industry, which invests billions of private capital to safely and efficiently move goods, is among the list of opponents.

Rail’s Rationale

Aside from longer trucks leading to increased traffic congestion, more greenhouse gas emissions and more damage to roads and bridges, which already contribute to America’s poor Infrastructure rating, the rail industry sees additional concerns:

  • Trucks under current weight and length limits fail to cover their infrastructure impact. Taxes and fees on trucks only pay 80% of the damage they cause to America’s infrastructure, namely highways. Since 2008, $143 billion of General Funds have bolstered the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to offset this payment shortcoming. One-third of HTF revenues come from general revenues today, not user fees.
  • This dynamic forces taxpayers to subsidize the trucking sector and presents a competitive disadvantage for freight railroads in the private market. While trucks are a key part of the economy and a major railroad partner, the rail industry rejects the notion that general taxpayer dollars should be used to offset underpayment. Large commercial trucks today contribute significantly in underpayments to the HTF, allowing the trucking sector to artificially deflate rates. Private freight railroads, meanwhile, spend $26 billion annually in their network and do not have any such advantage.
  • Allowing for longer trucks would exacerbate the issue, due in part to expected freight diversion. Historical data show that increased truck sizes lead to more trucks, which would drive more freight traffic to roads. Policymakers should prioritize the movement of freight on privately funded, fixed rail right-of-ways, not policies that spur greater highway movement.

Incompatibility

“Twin 33-foot containers” are incompatible with the current freight rail network. And to use them in intermodal movements, freight railroads would need to spend billions more to cater to a trucking sector already failing to pay their way.

At a time when policymakers continue to call for investment in the nation’s infrastructure, knowingly taking steps to further damage the nation’s federal highway system is bad policy.

Congress should reject current efforts to increase truck lengths. Proposals that increase truck sizes have no place in the federal appropriations process or in any legislation until trucks agree to reasonable measures to fully account for their infrastructure impact.