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Policy Issues

Truck Size and Weight

WHY THIS MATTERS: Heavier trucks damage our crumbling infrastructure, cost more for taxpayers, cause more congestion and greenhouse gases and worsen the intermodal sector.

AAR POLICY POSITION: Freight railroads oppose proposals to increase truck weight limits to 91,000 pounds.

Due to concerns about the uncompensated damage trucks cause to our highways, Congress set truck weight limits on the Interstate Highway System at 80,000 pounds in 1982. In April 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released the final results of a study examining the impacts of increasing current federal truck size and weight limits and further concluded that no changes to federal policy on truck size and weights should be made at this time.

These limits make good sense, as the fuel taxes and other highway-related fees that heavy trucks pay fall far short of covering the costs of the highway damage they cause. In fact, any federal program that increases federal truck size limits will further subsidize commercial highway users at the expense of taxpayers, exacerbate deterioration of crumbling infrastructure and disadvantage a critical freight rail industry.

In contrast, freight railroads offer a safe and efficient way to move cargo across the country while operating on privately-owned infrastructure they have invested billions into maintaining and upgrading.

Now proponents are seeking a legislative mandate for a multi-state pilot program to increase federal limits on truck weights from 80,000 lbs. to 91,000 lbs. — a jump of almost 14% in truck weight, which would further stress the nation's deteriorating roads and bridges.  At a time, when policymakers continue to call for investment into and improvement of the nation's infrastructure, knowingly taking steps to further damage the nation's federal highway system is misguided policy.


The Facts: Why  91,000 Pound Trucks Are Bad For the U.S.

More Damage to Crumbling Infrastructure

  • Highways: A 2017 assessment of U.S. infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave roads a "D." Additionally, it found that one of every five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition and several billion dollars are needed to repair a significant and growing backlog of damaged roads.

  • Bridges: More than half the bridges on the National Highway System are more than 40 years old, and nearly 25% are already either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. While proponents of truck size increases claim that a sixth axle would lessen the damage the heavier weight would cause, it does little to lessen the impact of bridges primarily impacted by gross vehicle weight. Increasing truck weight limits from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds would negatively affect nearly 4,900 bridges — 1,485 of which are on the Interstate system.  

More Cost to Taxpayers

  • Trucks currently only pay 80% of the damage they cause.

  • DOT showed that allowing similarly heavy trucks — 97,000 pounds — would result in trucks only paying for 50% of the damage they cause, leaving taxpayers to cover the remaining balance.

  • Taxpayers are bailing out truckers: Since 2008, $143 billion of General Fund transfers have gone to the Highway Trust Fund.  This multi-billion dollar annual bailout would become even greater if truck size and weight limits increase. 

More Traffic Congestion and Greenhouse Emissions

  • Congress last increased the federal weight limit in 1982. Then, as now, those pushing for bigger trucks said it would result in fewer trucks on the road, but that never happened. In fact, the number of trucks registered in the U.S. and the mileage of trucks traveled has increased by 91%.

  • More than 40% of urban interstates are congested. Traffic delays and lost productivity cost the American economy $160 billion a year in wasted time and fuel. Separate research from global real-time traffic information company INRIX in 2013 calculated that traffic costs the average household $1,700 a year.

  • Estimates show if just 10% of the freight that moves by truck moved by rail instead, fuel savings would exceed 800 million gallons per year and annual greenhouse gas emissions would fall by more than 9 million tons — equivalent to taking around 1.8 million cars off the road or planting 215 million trees. Increased truck weights would move in the opposite direction.

  Less Rail Traffic and a Worsened Intermodal Sector

  • A 2010 study concluded that an increase from the current 80,000 pound weight limit to a 97,000 pound weight limit could reduce overall rail traffic by 19%. The same study found that diverted freight will inevitably find its way onto the highway, resulting in 8 million more trucks on our roads and bridges — a 56% increase.

  • Traffic on short line railroads would experience similarly large diversion, likely crippling many short lines.  In this scenario, an estimated 6 million to 12 million additional trucks could be added to our nation's already overcrowded highways because of diversion of freight from rail to trucks.

  • Heavier trucks also undermine direct, massive investments in intermodal shipping operations as freight railroad infrastructure cannot support the added weight on their lines.


Opposition is Ubiquitous

  • In MAP-21, Congress directed USDOT to conduct a comprehensive study to examine the impacts of increasing current federal truck size and weight limits. In 2015, the DOT concluded that no changes to current federal policy on truck size and weights should be made at this time.        

  • The U.S. House of Representatives already recently considered increasing truck weights to 91,000 pounds in a landmark vote on November 3, 2015.  This amendment was soundly defeated by a vote of 236-187 and the bill was strongly opposed by a broad coalition of law enforcement and safety groups, local government representatives, railroads, truck drivers and even a significant segment of the trucking industry.

  • A January 2015 nationwide survey of 1,000 participants conducted by Harper Polling found 76% of respondents oppose heavier trucks.

Supporting Research

  • American Society of Civil Engineers: America's Infrastructure Report Card (2017)

  • U.S. DOT: Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight (2016 / 2015 / 2000)

  • American Association of State Highways and Transportation Officials: Transportation Bottom Line Report (2015)

  • The Road Information Program: Challenges and Opportunities in America's Heartland (2017)

  • Gerard J. McCullough: Long-Run Diversion Effects of Changes in TSW Restrictions (2013)

  • Carl D. Martland: Estimating the Competitive Effects of Larger Trucks on Rail Freight Traffic (2010 / 2007)