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U.S. National Debt:

Lifting The Weight Off Idaho Commerce

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Each time we shop, every time we purchase something, chances are pretty good a truck played a role in getting those goods to that retailer. Trucks play a vital role in our country's commerce, and getting goods from source to consumer safely and cost-effectively is an important consideration. That's why I joined with Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) to introduce the bipartisan Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA), S.3705, which provides a voluntary opt-in program to let states determine if increasing truck weights would be appropriate within their state. Idaho's Representatives Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick co-sponsored identical legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

SETA would increase truck weights from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds--provided trucks are equipped with a sixth axle--on the Interstate System in states that opt into the plan. The legislation provides an option for states--not a mandate; states who want to opt in must get state legislature approval. Idahoans are best positioned to determine the appropriate truck weight for vehicles operating on roadways within Idaho's boundaries.

While there is considerable debate over acceptable truck weights, the benefits of truck weight flexibility to states far outweigh any negatives. Although some are concerned increased weights would escalate strain on roadways and heavy trucks aren't paying their fair share to maintain highways and bridges, a number of important factors are being overlooked in this debate:

• The weight increase would be optional for states.
• Idaho businesses, shippers and consumers benefit from more efficient, affordable shipping choices.
• Allowing heavier trucks on interstate highways would keep them off less-equipped, smaller roads.
• Truck weight flexibility could improve Idaho's competitiveness.
• Increased truck weights could result in safety and environmental benefits.

Idahoans produce more than is consumed in the state, and a truck weight increase option would let producers better consolidate goods, reduce shipments and refocus resources on jobs and equipment upgrades. The Department of Transportation estimated using six-axle tractor-trailers could save as much as $14.5 billion in shipping costs annually. Nearly 150 businesses and associations, including the Idaho Grower Shippers Association, the Idaho Potato Commission and the Intermountain Forest Association, support SETA.

Idaho has a 10-year pilot project allowing trucks weighing up to 129,000 pounds on approximately 500 miles of state highways in southern Idaho. The program enabled Amalgamated Sugar Company alone to reduce truck trips by 30,000 and save nearly $300,000. As Idaho businesses compete globally, Idahoans must be able to establish truck weight limits competitive with neighboring states; Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming have less severe federal highway truck weight limits. Canada, the United Kingdom and many other countries also have higher weight limits.

Larger interstate highways are better equipped to carry heavier trucks. SETA includes a user fee for 97,000-pound, six-axle trucks that would fund accelerated bridge repair and maintenance. The higher weight limit would also reduce the number of trucks needed on the road, saving $2.4 billion in pavement restoration costs over 20 years and make roads safer by decreasing vehicle miles traveled. A smaller number of trucks would provide safety and environmental benefits. Since the United Kingdom raised its gross vehicle weight limit to 97,000 pounds in 2001, fatal truck-related accident rates declined by 35 percent. Reducing the number of trucks also means reduced fuel usage and emissions.

Idahoans deserve flexibility to determine truck weights that make sense for Idaho roadways. SETA would give Idaho and other states the option to increase interstate truck weights safely to get more goods to market with fewer trucks. This is good for Idaho commerce, highway safety and the environment.

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