Commentary: Antiquated Transportation Laws Hinder Economic Prosperity (Dave Ladd, RDL & Associates)

Throughout the United States trucks move goods and products that drive our economy, including agricultural products that are moving to markets both domestically and abroad. Efficient and cost-effect access to these markets for farmers’ and ranchers is critically important to feeding a hungry world.

Safe, efficient and cost-effective transportation options are necessary for the agriculture sector to move the commodities produced by our farmers and ranchers to market. Unfortunately, public policy has not kept pace with modern realities.

Many trucks on interstates today aren’t even close to being full. Under current law, trucks are allowed to transport no more than 80,000 pounds at a time. These trucks meet the 30-year old federal weight limit but have space left in the trailer.

Because of this antiquated law, the agriculture sector is often forced to transport goods in a number of partially-full trucks. This increases shipping costs and places more vehicles on the road, increasing the risk of accidents.

Modernization of these antiquated standards would allow for the shipment of commodities and agriculture products in a timely, efficient and cost-effective manner while greatly reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled.  Within the U.S. more than 90 percent of states allow heavier trucks on state and local roads while federal regulations keep them off the interstate, yet the interstate is the safest and most efficient route for traffic.

The answer may lie in the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2013. This legislation would allow a state to authorize a vehicle with a maximum gross weight that exceeds certain federal weight limitations to operate on Interstate Highway System routes in the state if the vehicle is equipped with at least six axles and the weight of any single axle does not exceed 20,000 pounds. In addition, the proposal extends the existing weight-based user fee.

Our farmers and ranchers, as well as consumers, would greatly benefit by allowing states the opportunity to allow more productive trucks to access both state and interstate routes that make the most sense.

The safety and economic benefits of six-axle trucks are not some theoretical exercise. In 2010 Maine and Vermont implemented pilot projects that allowed six-axle trucks full access to their interstate highways. Law enforcement officials, motorists and truckers all agreed that the change made roads noticeably safer and more efficient.

The common-sense changes contained within the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act would enhance movement of agricultural products, thereby allowing farmers and ranchers to be better positioned as they respond to their markets in the future. It not only updates antiquated federal rules to make it easier for trucks to transport goods in a safe and efficient way, it also lowers transportation costs for the agriculture sector.

Dave Ladd served as a Policy Advisor to former United States Senator Rod Grams.  His company, RDL & Associates, assists clients in achieving their legislative and policy objectives via strategic communications, message development and navigation of complex matters of public policy.

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