An Open Letter to the House of Representatives in Support of the SAFE Trucking Act: Truck-Weight Reform is Pro-Taxpayer Transportation Policy!
On behalf of National Taxpayers Union’s (NTU) members across the country, I strongly urge you to support the Safe, Flexible, and Efficient (SAFE) Trucking Act when it is offered as a floor amendment to the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act (H.R. 3763). Although H.R. 3763 is far from ideal, passage of the SAFE Trucking Act, which would provide states the flexibility to integrate their Interstate Highway systems with other roads that allow heavier trucks, is one of NTU’s top transportation priorities. The SAFE Trucking Act would afford each state the option to raise truck-weight limits on Interstate Highways within their jurisdictions, from the current 80,000 pounds (five axles) to as much as 91,000 pounds (six axles). Such a move would provide a significant boost to the economic potential of the nation’s highway infrastructure while avoiding additional deficit spending.
It is particularly appropriate that a floor vote on the SAFE Trucking Act is scheduled for this week, as the House prepares to consider H.R. 3763. Clearly the committee debate surrounding that legislation indicates that lawmakers are seeking a new paradigm in transportation policy that is less reliant on traditional patterns of appropriations and revenue-raising. The SAFE Trucking Act is precisely the kind of innovative approach that can help lead America toward such a paradigm.
Although at first glance the connection between the SAFE Trucking Act and the interests of a citizen group such as NTU may not seem readily apparent, this legislation admirably embodies many of our organization’s principles. The seemingly minor regulatory reforms in this bipartisan legislation and amendment, introduced by Representatives Ribble (R-WI), Schrader (D-OR), Rouzer (R-NC), and Peterson (D-MN), could actually deliver major benefits.
In the next decade, freight tonnage carried on trucks is expected to increase markedly, making a solution that does not involve large public expenditures imperative. This legislation would help to address future congestion problems on the nation’s highways without massive infusions of higher taxpayer funding – thereby lessening the pressure for increases in fuel taxes or federal deficits. Additionally, the SAFE Trucking Act would improve the productivity and efficiency of our economy overall, saving considerable amounts of fuel, labor, and logistical costs for industries that depend on highways to ship their goods. Furthermore, bringing truck-weight limits more into line with our neighbors to the North and South (as well as those across the Atlantic) would enhance America’s international competitiveness, which has been damaged by numerous factors such as a burdensome tax system. Finally, the bill could provide ancillary benefits, e.g. reduced emissions from fewer trucks on the road, without resorting to detrimental schemes such as “cap-and-trade” national energy taxes.
On its fiscal merits alone, the SAFE Trucking Act’s passage is long overdue. Unfortunately, progress has been delayed by concerns over highway wear, bridge damage, or traffic safety. Such arguments, which had little merit when the concept was developed several years ago, have no relevance today. Through careful study of the six-axle option, as well as legislative refinements, it is clear that the SAFE Trucking Act would actually improve all of the conditions opponents originally cited for their reluctance over the proposal. The Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation, the University of Michigan Transportation Institute, and the National Academy of Sciences are just a few of the institutions that have explored the six-axle model’s many virtues, including better braking performance and less weight per tire on road surfaces.
Pilot projects in Maine and Vermont have demonstrated the safety and viability of the six-axle configuration stipulated under the SAFE Trucking Act, while the most extensive study yet conducted – under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) – enumerated a plethora of benefits, including:
Added annual value to the economy of $6.5 billion in saved logistical overhead;
Reductions in emissions and energy usage;
Lower life-cycle pavement costs of 4.2 percent; and
No additional net rehab expenses for bridges than for trucks under the current weight limits. The new configuration would be entirely compliant with the present federal bridge formula.
Outside the U.S., where numerous trading partners have long embraced SAFE Trucking Act-style weight and axle rules (often going beyond these provisions), the results have been just as impressive. A summary of research compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and centering upon Australia, Canada, Sweden, and the United Kingdom extolled many advantages from heavier truck weights, ranging from congestion reduction to fewer accidents. And, as a pointed reminder that our Tax Code is not the only uncompetitive aspect of law impeding a robust economic recovery, the OECD analysis noted that America’s cargo transportation efficiency ranks lower than that of all the other developed nations.
Opponents of the SAFE Trucking Act continue to mischaracterize the legislation’s aims and effects, calling it a “mandate for bigger trucks.” In fact, the proposal simply provides flexibility for states to safely incorporate heavier (not “bigger”) trucks for Interstate Highways, like many already provide for other roads at heavier weights than 91,000 pounds. There is no requirement that any state must expand its limits. Furthermore, the Act contains an extensive reporting regime that obligates states choosing the higher weight limits to oversee their implementation and transmit any findings on their impact to the U.S. Department of Transportation every three years. Plus, USDOT can, at any time, de-certify any section of Interstate Highway for state-optional limits if, after due analysis, safety reasons warrant doing so.
Federal transportation policy has often been marred by excessive spending levels, weak oversight standards, inadequate devolution to state governments or appreciation for private-industry innovations, tax increases, and misplaced funding priorities for inefficient transit and other projects. Much more can be done to ensure that H.R. 3763 breaks away from this unsustainable course. The SAFE Trucking Act offers Congress the opportunity to make tremendous gains for taxpayers, private-sector productivity, and road users. NTU’s members look forward to passage of this important amendment; a “Yes” vote will be included in our annual Rating of Congress as a pro-taxpayer vote.
Pete Sepp, President