STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - September 18, 2008)
By Mr. CRAIG (for himself and Mr. Crapo):
S. 3516. A bill to permit commercial vehicles at weights up to 129,000 pounds to use certain highways of the Interstate System in the State of Idaho which would provide significant savings in the transportation of goods throughout the United States, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to introduce the Idaho Efficient Vehicle Demonstration Act of 2008. I am pleased that my colleague, Senator Crapo, is fully supportive and an original cosponsor of this bill, and that an identical bill will be introduced today in the House of Representatives by our colleagues, Representatives Mike Simpson and Bill Sali.
This is a bill that is very important to the State of Idaho. It is a bill that will improve the efficiency of freight movement within the State, provide significant economic benefits to a variety of local natural resource-based industries, and establish a record attesting to the safety of heavier, more efficient vehicles.
The State of Idaho has long recognized the need to provide a more productive means of freight transport. In light of that, the Idaho State Legislature created a pilot project in 2003 to allow vehicle combinations weighing up to 129,000 pounds on designated routes within the State highway system. As a result of this pilot project, Idaho has realized significant economic benefits and has established a strong record of safety while utilizing more efficient vehicles.
Idaho's sugar beet, potato, grain, dairy and phosphate industries reported that participation in the pilot project resulted in reduced fuel consumption and equipment maintenance and increased productivity based on estimates of five to eight percent savings in freight costs. Amalgamated Sugar Company reported 30,000 fewer truck trips, resulting in an estimated savings of just under $300,000.
This pilot project has been in effect for 5 years and no safety concerns have been raised by the participants or by the Idaho Transportation Department in their initial report last year. In fact, survey responses from pilot project participants found that safety was the same or greater due to the reduced numbers of trucks on the road. Similarly, the pilot project has not been found to create a significant change in pavement conditions when compared to previous years.
In light of this 5-year record, I believe it is appropriate and necessary to make a very small, targeted expansion of this project by adding limited stretches of Federal highway to the existing State pilot project to help connect our State and Federal roads so that the movement of goods can proceed more efficiently in the future.
This small expansion is necessary for several reasons. Idaho's neighboring States of Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming do not have such stringent limits on their Federal highways due to grandfathered rights. This puts Idaho at a distinct competitive disadvantage and slows the free flow of freight between neighboring States. This bill would help to even that disparity in weight restrictions among our neighbors. It will also provide valuable data and information to the U.S. Department of Transportation as to the net beneficial effects to our infrastructure by requiring that road, bridge and accident information is gathered and reported.
This bill has the strong support of Idaho Governor Butch Otter, the Idaho Transportation Department, and the business community, including both shippers and motor carriers. The Idaho Trucking Association has specifically endorsed this proposal as have numerous shipper companies that are based in my home State.
I recognize that there are significant challenges facing the freight industry and, by association, our natural resource-based industries that rely heavily on trucks to move their freight. Changes in truck emission requirements, a seemingly perpetual driver shortage, sustained high fuel costs, and increasing insurance premiums are only a few of the challenges that face truck companies and struggling industries in Idaho. With that said, this is one step that can be taken to relieve some of the burden on our freight industry, and do so in a safe, economic and environmentally friendly fashion.
If enacted, this bill will improve safety by reducing the number of trucks on Idaho roads. It will have a positive environmental impact by reducing diesel consumption and emissions. It will provide an economic boost to the State by reducing wear and tear on Idaho highways and improving the competitiveness of our natural resource industries.
In light of the enormous task of reauthorizing our Nation's surface transportation policy next year, it is important that proposals of this nature be allowed time to be discussed and vetted at length. Ultimately, it is my hope that we might be able to make some targeted changes to Federal weight restrictions in order to achieve significant environmental and economic gains while still keeping the highest regard for safety.
I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to move forward this important issue.