Proposed Transportation Bill Raises Questions About Safety

The new bill, titled The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, was proposed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and authorizes $260 billion dollars in funds for highway infrastructure projects. The act is being represented as a job creating and energy independence bill by Republicans, but the opposition has concerns over changes to trucking regulations contained in the bill.

The foremost concern is over a provision changing the weight limit for trucks on the road from 80,000 lbs to 97,000 lbs and in some cases as much as 126,000 lbs. Trucking companies are expected to be in favor of the bill because it allows them to move more freight per driver, which means having to fill fewer trucking jobs. With the largest rigs reaching 100 feet in length and weighing up to 126,000 pounds, AAA and safety advocates are more concerned with how much energy is required to stop such a rig and how much damage the larger trucks could cause in accidents.

Statistics from the Truck Safety Coalition show that in 2010 traffic fatalities were down, but fatalities from truck accidents were up 9% in the same period. The Coalition for Trucking Productivity, an advocate group for trucking companies and truck driving jobs, has countered the position that highways would be more dangerous under the proposed act by saying heavier trucks are no more dangerous than current rigs as long as they have a sixth axle instead of the typical five.

In a written statement about the bill executive director John Runyan explained that trucks with a sixth axle maintain all of the braking and handling characteristics of a truck at the 80,000 pound limit.

The new weight limit also raises concern over the condition of American highways and bridges. Heavier trucks would put more stress on bridges, which have an average age of 43 years according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. News watchers will remember the I35W Mississippi bridge collapse of 2007 that killed 13 people and injured 145. The NTSB cited a design flaw as a likely cause of the collapse and also asserted that additional weight on the bridge contributed to structural failure.

Despite safety concerns, Republicans are pushing forward with the bill. As the economy ails and constituents are asking where the economic recovery is, Congress cannot ignore a bill that creates jobs and promotes energy independence. The new act is expected to create many new jobs in the energy sector, create more jobs in infrastructure repair and creation, and preserve truck driving jobs by keeping highways open.

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