A recent USA Today editorial, “18-year-olds driving 18-wheelers?: Our View,” touched a nerve about what the writer calls the ‘troubling changes’ associated with a new Capitol Hill push by the powerful trucking industry. The plan would put 18-year-old kids behind the wheel of long-haul interstate trucks, a consequence of the critical shortage of qualified drivers nationwide.
Has an industry intent on cutting its costs and improving its profitability gone too far? Besides long-haul teen drivers, it also wants to pre-empt laws in 39 states to allow double trailers of 33 feet each. And if that’s not enough, the industry is lobbying Congress to relax the hours of service rules that would eliminate one of the nighttime sleep periods for its long-haul drivers.
Closer to home, the ITD Board is considering a request to allow two-trailer trucks hauling up to 129,000-pound loads of lumber, steel, grain and fertilizer right through the center of Boise and the Treasure Valley.
Idaho’s Arlo G. Lott Trucking has formally requested the state to allow the company to run oversized 115-foot, two-trailer loads on a 30-mile stretch starting at Idaho16 near Star then onto U.S. 20/26 (Chinden Boulevard) through Garden City. From there, these huge trucks will merge with traffic on the Connector, then maneuver these heavy loads through tight corners downtown onto and off Front and Myrtle streets.
The route continues past Boise State University and an elementary school on Broadway, before ending at the Broadway interchange. Where to next? Ask the industry.
This scheme modifies longstanding urban prohibitions, challenges common sense and puts thousands of motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists in the path of huge semitrailer combinations one-third the length of a football field. Once authorized, trucks from this company — and presumably others who wish to follow suit — will alter commuter routes and commercial corridors, redefine residential neighborhoods and transform the character of downtown Boise.
The big move raises some tough questions: How will acceleration dynamics and braking capacity of these trucks affect local traffic flows and impact road surfaces? How will oversize two-trailer trucks make 90-degree turns at choke points such as the Connector at 13th Street? How will traffic flow be affected by 65-ton loads at four dozen stoplights along this 30-mile route? What can pedestrians exiting Century Link Arena after the big game at 10 p.m. expect? How will the presence of fully loaded two-trailer trucks affect pedestrian traffic at Garfield Elementary on Broadway?
Supporters say bigger trucks mean fewer trips, but that’s counter intuitive to the expanding freight markets the relaxation of regulations brings. So, who will pay for accelerated wear and tear of our roads and bridges? Who will enforce route compliance and overweight restrictions? And tell us again how an extra axle or two will limit the damage of heavier loads on span bridges. If anything, the bill to replace Idaho’s aging bridges will just come due sooner.
This summer AAA wrote letters to the Idaho Congressional delegation to express opposition to further increases in existing truck size and weight standards on all Idaho roads. We reminded the delegation that the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded no changes to truck size and weight regulations should be made, based on inconclusive results of the Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Technical Report.
The local showdown will determine which is more important: profitability for trucks and shippers or safety and common sense for all road users. Don’t look now, but there’s something big in our rearview mirrors.
Dave Carlson is director of Public & Government Affairs for AAA Idaho.