Like most states, New Jersey’s roads and bridges are in need of repair as decades of wear and tear take their toll on vital infrastructure. But despite these challenges, shipping industry groups are asking Congress to increase federal truck weight limits. This would cost taxpayers by exacerbating infrastructure damage while weakening industries such as freight rail that are critical to the Garden State’s economy.
New Jersey’s roads and bridges cannot afford the additional strain of heavier trucks. In 2016, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state’s roads and bridges a “D+” grade, with 42 percent of roads being found deficient and more than 40 percent of bridges in need of repair. Putting heavier trucks on the road will only make these problems worse.
The current push is not the first time shipping industry groups have attempted to raise truck weight limits since Congress first enacted them in 1982. The dire infrastructure consequences of heavier trucks have led lawmakers to repeatedly reject these efforts, most recently in 2015. As Congress now moves closer to a major infrastructure proposal, lawmakers must continue to recognize the threat that heavier trucks pose to our failing infrastructure.
In addition to greater wear and tear, increased weight limits would put more trucks on the road — meaning more congestion, lengthier commute times and lost productivity for motorists. As a state in which commuters already experience daily transportation turmoil, New Jerseyans cannot afford the additional traffic resulting from more heavy trucks on the roads.
But perhaps most troubling is that cash-strapped taxpayers would be forced to pick up the tab for heavier trucks. Already, trucks operating at the weight limit of 80,000 pounds underpay their share of damage costs by 27 cents per gallon. This number stands to increase with heavier trucks, which will only pay 50 percent of their share, according to a recent study.
As large trucks fail to pull their weight and the Highway Trust Fund is rapidly depleted to fund constant repairs, Congress has been forced to add an additional $143 billion to the Highway Trust Fund in the past nine years.
As a result, heavier trucks are unilaterally opposed by the American public, government leaders, and even truckers. A 2015 poll showed that 80 percent of the Americans are against putting larger trucks on roads and highways.
The privately owned freight railroad industry opposes heavier trucks, in part, because it would divert carloads and corresponding revenues from private rail infrastructure to public roads. While this may seem self-serving, consider that one freight train can take hundreds of cars off the road, and in turn, cut carbon emissions, reduce congestion and lessen the deterioration of public infrastructure.
Our industry provides a public benefit – particularly as we serve every industrial, wholesale, retail and resource based sector of the economy. New Jersey’s diverse economy, including its vibrant ports, fully understand the need for maintaining today’s integrated, multimodal transportation network. A transformational traffic shift from rail to trucks would adversely affect the nation’s and New Jersey’s intermodal transportation system.
The Garden State is fortunate to have multiple leaders in Congress who understand that public infrastructure must be addressed and that freight railroads — which take trucks off of roads in droves — are a key part of the picture. It is time to say no to heavier trucks.
Ian Jefferies is senior vice president for government affairs at the Association of American Railroads