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Big Weight + Big Money = SETA

The legislative process is a delicate balance. When the general public looks at legislation that eventually passes and is signed into law, it is easy to judge the content based on the political fervor of the time. There is no argument that the majority party and their political value system steer the ship, but it is not in a vacuum. At the state level, months of wrangling, amending and hearings take place long before a new law arrives on the Governor’s desk. Even the weaker party brings the legislation closer to the middle. At the federal level, legislation can wait years before moving forward as a similar process unfolds. This is clearly seen with HR 612, also known as the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2013 (SETA).

While this new version of SETA was introduced in February, other versions to accomplish the same thing have been introduced by Congress in the past. The meat of the legislation is this: allow combinations of vehicles to operate up to 97,000 pounds gross weight on six axles on the interstates. Single and tandem weights would remain the same at 20,000 pounds and 34,000 pounds respectively. The three-axle series on the trailer however would be allowed 51,000 pounds, regardless of the federal bridge formula.

Key point: The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is NOT taking a stance one way or the other in regards to this legislation…yet. The goal of this article is to set the board as the game begins for our readers and membership, and how it could potentially affect Illinois.

It would seem that the trucking industry as a whole would support this legislation, but that could not be further from the truth. In reality, those in favor of the legislation are typically some of the largest trucking companies in the nation that operate their own fleet of trucks

The coalition’s stumping for this legislation will tout how the United States, as a nation, has some of the lowest weight limits. They will argue that the extra weight carried on this axle configuration will not create undue hardship on the highway infrastructure. They will contend that extra weight on trucks yields less trucks on the road, thereby reducing the number of crashes. They will promote that the heavier trucks are just as safe braking-wise as current legal weight trucks.

On the other side of the coin are the coalitions in opposition. Here you will find the unlikely bedfellows of the rail industry, labor unions, law enforcement leaders, owner-operator trucking associations, and others. Obviously they will refute the claims of the proponents with their own studies and arguments. They will quickly add that only the big players can afford to purchase new equipment that can haul 97,000 pounds, which will effectively kill the small guys and hurt job growth.

As stated in the opening paragraph, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Both sides probably have legitimate and illegitimate arguments. The question to look at in this article is what it means for Illinois if this legislation were to pass.

In 1986, Illinois adopted the Federal Bridge Formula for interstates and other federally funded roads as was required by Washington DC. Over time, Illinois added other highways to this group more commonly known as “designated roads”. Eventually, all states adopted uniform weight limits, except Illinois. For twenty-four years, the trucking industry lobbied Illinois to do away with an archaic two-tiered weight system, and they finally prevailed with a uniform gross weight starting January 1st, 2010.

If SETA were to pass, Illinois would go back to a two-tiered weight system. There would be 97,000 pound roads and 80,000 pound roads. It’s the same song, second verse of 80,000 and 73,280 pound roads. To think truck drivers operating at the higher weights will remain solely on the interstates and not venture off onto local roads is illogical. Surely there will be some sort of reasonable access included, but the reality is there will be a lot of overweight citations generated. And a lot of fine money paid. Local governments, still reeling in anger from the weight change in 2010, will not so easily be rolled over again.

If it took nearly a quarter-century for the industry to erase a 6,720 pound gross weight discrepancy between designated and non-designated highways, how long will it take with a 17,000 pound gross weight discrepancy? Add that to a doubled fine (agreed to by the trucking industry) that did not exist prior to 2010, and it will be an expensive day for the truckers…a cost that will eventually affect all of us as consumers.

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