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Increasing weight limits for trucks makes sense for Minnesota

Courtesy of MnDOT
A marginal increase in the truck weight limits would mean taking thousands of trucks off Minnesota highways.

Opponents of bringing Minnesota’s truck weight limits more into line with all of our neighboring states (and in line with the weights already permitted in Minnesota for timber and agriculture products) have created a scary boogeyman. You hear a lot of frightening rhetoric about the danger of, and potential damage from, “bigger trucks” on Minnesota roads.

Like most scary boogeymen, “bigger trucks” are a figment of the imagination.

Minnesota businesses are indeed advocating for allowing better, more balanced Minnesota trucks to haul more weight. They would do so using trucks that are exactly the same size (53 feet) permitted by state law, no bigger. Not one inch bigger. The trained and licensed professional drivers would also haul these slightly heavier loads using trucks with six or seven axles, which mean six or seven sets of brakes, so they would be safer than the trucks currently on the road.

Perhaps most importantly, a marginal increase in the truck weight limits would mean taking thousands of trucks off Minnesota highways. That means less traffic and less wear on our roads and bridges.

Think of last year’s Metrodome demolition project, in which nearly 50,000 truckloads of material were hauled out of downtown Minneapolis. Now factor in the proposed truck weight increase, and think of 7,500 fewer truckloads coming out of the state’s most populous city. And that’s just for one project out of thousands statewide.

In 2013, Hawkinson Construction in Grand Rapids completed dozens of road projects for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. On just one of those projects, the trucking costs were more than $360,000. With the proposed truck weight increase considered, the same job could’ve been done at a savings of over $100,000 to Minnesota taxpayers. Again, that’s one job out of thousands completed every year.

As opposed to citing hand-picked anecdotes from other states found somewhere on the Internet, advocates of the higher weight limits point to a comprehensive MnDOT study noting that the proposed increase in truck weights would in fact lead to a 37 percent reduction in road wear.

It’s a debate that is based in part on the harsh economic realities facing many Minnesota companies. Rail is sometimes an alternative for moving goods, but less than half of our state has access to rail. And the North Dakota oil boom has led to a scarcity of available space on rail lines.

Many companies with shipping needs turn to trucking, where there is a serious and growing shortage of qualified drivers. If you find a trucking company with capacity, you face the competitive disadvantage written into state law, as our next-door neighbors all allow loads heavier than the 80,000 pounds permitted in Minnesota. This means drivers of fully loaded trucks have to unload materials in Sioux Falls, Fargo, Superior and other border towns before crossing into Minnesota. It also means companies building their distribution centers on the other side of the Red or Mississippi rivers, and sending their related jobs out of our state.

So the advocates for this legislation are seeking a more level playing field, not only with our neighbors, but with other Minnesota industries who are already allowed to haul loads of up to 97,000 pounds on our roads and bridges. That’s been happening for years, without the catastrophic danger and irreparable road damage that has been perceived and predicted by opponents.

Minnesota needs to be able to compete economically in our region, and provide a sensible transportation solution that will create jobs and mean less wear on our roads due to fewer trucks on our highways.

No boogeyman required.

Fred Corrigan is executive director of the Aggregate and Ready Mix Association of Minnesota, which represents dozens of Minnesota companies of all sizes. He serves as chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.

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Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 02/25/2015 - 12:20 pm.

    Road Limits

    This opinion piece has some facts that are much appreciated. But it’s also missing some key elements a person like me needs to make an informed decision. For example:

    -The current weight limit in Minnesota is 80,000 pounds. What is your new proposed limit?
    -What is the limit of our neighbors?
    -Do our neighbors build their roads differently than us to handle the increased weight?
    -You mentioned it will decrease the lifespan of Minnesota highways by 37%. What is the current lifespan of a freeway?
    -Given that your trucks are the direct cause of the increased deterioration, how do you propose to pay for it?

    Minnesota is already running a severe deficit in highway funds–we can’t keep up with the existing maintenance, let alone any new funds needed for new highways or premature highway repairs. I would regard the proposed weight limit in a much more favorable light if there’s a mechanism to make Minnesota taxpayers whole so they’re not stuck with the bill. Considering trucks are already 20% short on what they should be paying for road repairs, how do you propose to make up that shortfall? That’s even before we get into the 37% decrease in pavement life.

    After all, at the end of the day they shouldn’t have to subsidize your business model so you can make more money. Demonstrate you’re part of the community and care about paying your fair share and you’ll see a lot more support. If you just want to shove the cost onto taxpayers though, then your proposal should–rightfully–be voted down.

    • Submitted by Steve Hoffman on 02/25/2015 - 02:14 pm.

      Excellent questions

      Dang, you asked every question that occurred to me as I read the article. Thanks!

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 02/26/2015 - 09:55 am.

      They don’t plan on paying for it…

      I’ve asked my trucking friends about paying for the roads the destroy many times over the year. They think that pay too much as it is. I doubt that allowing them to carry more weight is going to change that sentiment.

  2. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/25/2015 - 08:53 am.

    A greasy argument

    How on earth is it to be true that if all those tens of thousands of truckloads were to actually disappear, it is going to “create jobs” ??

    It would seem straightforward that if you’re eliminating many tens of thousands of truckloads, you’d quite naturally be reducing jobs for drivers in similar measure. Isn’t this IN FACT one of the economies your industry seeks in your promotion of new limits – i.e., to reduce your costs by reducing drivers, i.e., jobs ??

    It would at least have the virtue of honesty if you simply stated that your industry wants to make MORE MONEY PER LOAD. But it also appears your industry doesn’t want to pay its own way for the benefits it requests. You’d get a lot more sympathetic hearing if you coupled your request with an offer to pay in full for the damages your trucks cause.

    Another thing that arouses sympathy is simple honesty.

  3. Submitted by John Cricky on 02/25/2015 - 08:57 am.

    Not a very solid argument

    “Well, everybody else is doing it” isn’t a very solid argument for allowing larger trucks on Minnesota’s roads. I’d prefer to see these businesses covering more of the increased cost of road upkeep (since they’ll be causing more need for repair) than a snarky opinion piece from a lobbyist.

  4. Submitted by John N. Finn on 02/25/2015 - 09:32 am.

    Counterintuitive

    “…..a comprehensive MnDOT study noting that the proposed increase in truck weights would in fact lead to a 37 percent reduction in road wear.”

    Sounds good. How heavy would weights need to be to get a reduction of 90%?

    “….other Minnesota industries who are already allowed to haul loads of up to 97,000 pounds on our roads and bridges. That’s been happening for years, without the catastrophic danger and irreparable road damage ….”

    Hmmm….but that results in reparable damage?

  5. Submitted by James Hamilton on 02/25/2015 - 09:38 am.

    I assume, then,

    that you’re ready, willing, and able to pay any increased costs in roadway maintenance determined to be attributable to heavier trucks. Or is this just about increasing profits for those who benefit from heavier loads?

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 02/26/2015 - 10:01 am.

      A safe assumption

      Would be that all profits would go into industry pockets and we’d be told how lucky we are to have all the new jobs that are created repairing the damage.

  6. Submitted by Brian Simon on 02/25/2015 - 10:37 am.

    no boogeymen?

    MN is alreadyour competing quite well in the region, thanks. And this proposal would reduce trucking jobs wouldn’t it?

  7. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/25/2015 - 12:47 pm.

    Reality bites

    Have you seen the map showing the most common jobs by state over time? Do you know what most people are doing? Driving trucks. Do you know what would happen to those people if you reduced the number of truck loads? Not driving trucks…

    Then, there’s the physics of the issue. Even if you add axles to trucks carrying heavier loads, you’re not actually decreasing the amount of wear and tear on the road. While some of the weight might be offset by the number of actual tractors, the number of axles per trailer would probably add up pretty fast, especially if you need to stabilize the added weight in the trailer by adding weight to the wheels/axles. Same weight, overall, same damage to the roads. Fewer jobs.

    And brakes? Ok, so you increase braking capacity by increasing axles. You also increase contact with the road, which is actually what stops the truck, not the brakes–they just stop the wheels. However, is the additional road contact sufficient to overcome the momentum of the additional weight, particularly at highway speeds? How about when turning? I’m not sure more wheels on the ground will result in being able to keep that trailer upright more often when the load is heavier. And, even if all of those issues are overcome, I’d like to see statistics on balancing the increased likelihood of death when accidents do happen with the reduced numbers of trucks on the road.

    What’s sad is that, if the proposal here really was about efficiency and decreasing wear and tear on the roads, the better investment would be more rail capacity and fewer, SMALLER trucks at hubs. Rail carries heavier loads more efficiently than trucks. It’s really more about eliminating costly human drivers, isn’t it?

    • Submitted by Joe Smithers on 02/25/2015 - 04:09 pm.

      Brakes

      The only trucks that haul 80,000lbs already have 6-7 axles so there would be no increase in axles or brakes at all as the author suggests. I am not sure where he is coming up with that argument at all.

  8. Submitted by Pederson Pederson on 02/25/2015 - 01:30 pm.

    HEAVIER TRUCKS

    Since the damage to roadways increases as a cube function of the weight per axle I trust the proponents of the change are also willing to have their license fee also increase by a factor of the cube of the difference in weights.

  9. Submitted by John Lindell on 02/25/2015 - 02:11 pm.

    Question for an expert

    This would seem to be a mathematical question best answered by a civil engineer, not by an advocate for the cement trucking industry. The “because everybody else is doing it” argument is particularly unpersuasive. Hopefully Minnesota has already adopted weight standards that are optimal for its road construction standards. Then, if Mr. Corrigan wants heavier trucks, he should be arguing for higher construction standards.

  10. Submitted by Joe Smithers on 02/25/2015 - 03:40 pm.

    trucks

    “The trained and licensed professional drivers would also haul these slightly heavier loads using trucks with six or seven axles, which mean six or seven sets of brakes, so they would be safer than the trucks currently on the road.”

    How exactly would the trucks be safer than the ones used currently Mr. Corrigan? The current trucks use the same number of axles and brakes. I’m not sure I can believe or even read your article any further if you use such flimsy evidence as that.

  11. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 02/25/2015 - 04:05 pm.

    We’ve been told Minnesota has a high number of bridges that are in disrepair. You suggest fewer trucks on the road, but put five newer trucks on the wrong bridge and it has to endure an additional 100,000 pounds of weight. The truck’s with six or seven axels won’t be easy to turn corners especially in downtown Minneapolis to use your example. Turning corners with all those wheels dragging will tear up the streets as they turn. Garbage trucks already do road damage, with less wheels. More axels mean more hardware, brakes, and tires which add to the cost of business. Those costs will be handed down to guess who? Less trucks means you are willing to put more people out of jobs, truck drivers and mechanics. Granted professional drivers are good, but how many semi’s have we seen in the news, just this week, involved in accidents? Accidents happen. More weight means accidents could be more severe than they already are, no matter who causes them. Because others do it is not a good answer.

  12. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 02/26/2015 - 09:59 am.

    A study is warrented…

    It would be interesting to have someone study the effects of running heavy trucks on our roads. Calculate the amount of wear and tear with only cars driving our roads. (I have a feeling that concrete freeways would never wear out.) Then calculate the wear and tear adding heavy trucks to the roadways. Calculate the percentage of the difference and have the trucking industry pay it.

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