Soybean Group Wants Heavier Semi


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Dec 16, 2023

Soybean Group Wants Heavier Semi

More heavily loaded trucks could make lighter work – and fewer expenses – for

More heavily loaded trucks could make lighter work – and fewer expenses – for U.S. farmers, according to a bill sponsored by Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD).

The bill, U.S. House Resolution 3372, advanced out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week on a bipartisan vote.

If the bill gets approval from the House and Senate, it would provide a voluntary, 10-year pilot program that states could choose to opt into, allowing six-axle semis at weights of up to 91,000 pounds to operate on interstate roads within the participating states.

Federal law controls maximum gross vehicle weights and axle loads on the Interstate System. Current federal limits are 80,000 pounds gross vehicle weight, 20,000 pounds on a single axle, and 34,000 pounds on a tandem axle group, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. There are some exceptions in some states during the annual grain harvest.

Why The Bill Makes SensePassing the bill, allowing for heavier truck limits and an additional axle would "provide a safe and efficient way to further streamline the supply chain," Johnson said in a news release his office distributed.

Soy Transportation Coalition Executive Director Mike Steenhoek told AgriTalk Host Chip Flory that a decision in favor of the bill would help address headwinds currently confronting the efficient movement of agricultural products via truck.

"We've got a persistent truck driver shortage, which is not going to go away," Steenhoek said. "We've got high fuel costs. We've got the desire to reduce emissions. We want to transport more. So, there's a lot of these things that we're really trying to do."

Steenhoek going from an 80,000 pound, five-axle semi to a six-axle semi carrying up to 91,000 pounds would provide transport efficiencies.

Consumers Need To Know The BenefitsFlory asked if a logical concern some consumers might have is whether heavier trucks would be inherently more dangerous on the road than lighter trucks.

"One of the inherent challenges is that it's easy to kind of have a default setting in your mind that heavier semis equal more danger," Steenhoek said.

"That additional axle is really critical, because it provides more braking capacity; it also distributes the weight so that the imprint on the road is actually less than an 80,000-pound, five-axle semi. There's a very favorable story to tell from the perspective of wear and tear on roads and maintenance of infrastructure," he added.

Along with that, there would likely be fewer ag-product hauling trips made by semi in participating states, thanks to efficiency.To test that theory, the Soy Transportation Coalition did a comparison of two grain elevators, with each one handling and transporting the same volume of product annually. One grain elevator would rely on the 80,000-pound, five-axle configuration while the other used the six-axle, 91,000-pound configuration. What they found is the grain elevator using the larger configuration would make 838 fewer truck trips annually.

"One of the big lessons we learned from the supply chain is that motor safety is very strongly related to the number of other vehicles you encounter on a road," Steenhoek said. "So if you're removing 838 truck transits from just one grain elevator handling the same amount of freight, that's going to (provide) a much more safe system."

The other fact that could help farmers and consumers have more confidence in the bill is the size of semis would not change. Currently, the maximum length of a trailer allowed is 53 feet.

"This bill does not extend that," Steenhoek said. "We’re not talking about longer, bigger trucks – just having the same basic size of truck and being able to transport more freight within that trailer."

Fewer Transportation Expenses IncurredIf the bill is passed, farmers could benefit from reduced transportation costs, Steenhoek said.

"We’ve got this goal that we still want to produce stuff, we still want to make stuff, and we still want to transport stuff, but we want to do it in a more sustainable manner with a reduced carbon footprint," he noted. "And this is just one of those opportunities to to do that. We think it makes a lot of sense, and we hope the bill will continue to proceed through Congress."

The bill now goes to the full House for consideration. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate."Getting a companion Senate bill will be really key. That's going to be the more difficult chamber to get it through," Steenhoek added.

Farmers interested in supporting the bill can do so by contacting their lawmakers.

Listen to the AgriTalk discussion between Steenhoek and Flory here:

Why The Bill Makes Sense Consumers Need To Know The Benefits Fewer Transportation Expenses Incurred