Truck Weight Reform: DOT’s Study Moves Forward

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FRA’s work on truck weight reform, along the lines of the Safe & Efficient Transportation Act (or SETA, HR 612), progresses in alignment with two other processes:

  • The larger Surface Transportation Reauthorization process, which must result in a new bill authorizing federal road, rail, and waterway policies and programs by September 30, 2014—or a temporary extension of current policies; and
  • The federal Department of Transportation’s comprehensive study on the impacts of more productive trucks—including SETA’s 97,000-pound/6-axle configuration—which is intended to inform the Reauthorization process.

FRA and other members of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity have been monitoring and providing comments on the DOT study to ensure that it measures and studies the right items and is free of prejudicial presumptions.

So far, the signs are good: a review session conducted by the non-aligned Transportation Research Board on December 5, followed by a DOT-hosted webinar on December 18, indicated that:

  • DOT’s model will measure network-wide impacts of more productive trucks—not simply whether one individual reconfigured truck has a different impact than a conventional truck;
  • The study will focus on more productive trucks’ impacts on the Interstate system primarily, leaving considerations of state and local roads to state transportation authorities.
  • The study will consider the recent data from the Maine/Vermont “pilot” project, which so far seems to affirm the safety impacts the SETA configuration projects.

DOT has also released a timeline of study milestones. Notably, the study team expects to compile its preliminary “Technical Report” during “spring 2014,” enabling a public release of the study’s tentative conclusions at an early date—well in advance of the September 30 deadline for passing a new Reauthorization bill. Additional “stakeholder outreach” sessions and a “peer review” process will proceed through the summer, with presentation of the final report to Congress by “November 2014.”

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is already opening up the Surface Transportation Reauthorization process, with an initial hearing scheduled for January 14; and statements from T&I Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) indicate that drafting may be underway as early as April, although others expect this target may slip to late spring. Although FRA supports timely passage of a robust Reauthorization—rather than an extension or continuing resolution—the history of Highway Bill negotiations in the past suggests that passage of a substantive bill in the months leading up to the November 2014 elections is doubtful, and at least one extension is likely—especially in light of the revenue questions that will be in the center of negotiations. In that case, resumption of negotiations after the elections would have the benefit of the publication of the final, peer-reviewed DOT study.

Background at this link.