Congress debates raising the 80,000 pound truck weight limit

Congress set the current 80,000-pound weight limit for trucks on Interstate highways in 1991. For years proponents of raising the limit have argued that it would reduce the number of trucks on the road, shipping costs, and congestion. On the other side of the argument are those who believe these benefits are outweighed by the fact that heavier trucks are more difficult to control and stop, and that heavier trucks cause greater damage to roads and bridges.

Two competing pieces of legislation in the House and Senate may soon determine whether the current limit is maintained. A bill to freeze the current limit at 80,000 pounds on federal highways, the Safe Highway and Infrastructure Preservation Act (H.R. 1574 and S. 876) has been introduced by Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). An opposing piece of legislation, the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA) (H.R 763), introduced by Representative Michael Michaud (D-ME) and Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) would allow longer combination vehicles (LCVs) weighing up to 97,000 pounds on federal highways and would allow individual states to increase the limit further. Although increasing the weight of a standard 5-axle truck from 80,000 to 90,000 pounds is estimated to result in a 42-percent increase in road wear, SETA proponents claim that the 6-axle configuration that would be required for trucks carrying the heavier loads would actually reduce highway wear compared to currently allowable configurations by better distributing the weight.

The National League of Cities, which recently published an article on the subject, is opposed to increasing allowable truck size and weight until the impacts of these larger heavier vehicles on highway costs and safety is better understood, and unless changes are accompanied by sufficient increases in heavy vehicle use tax.