JOHN RISCH: Bigger Trucks, Worse Roads

A nonpartisan research group, The Road Information Program, estimates that one-third of North Dakota roads are in mediocre/fair or poor condition, and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) estimates that half of our state’s bridges are in fair/poor condition. The results of all this costs North Dakota motorists $186 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs, or $353 for each of us.

Knowing all this, what are Rep. Cramer and Sen. Hoeven proposing to do to address this problem?  Unbelievably, the answer is they have slipped provisions into spending bills that would raise North Dakota truck weights from 105,500 lbs. to 129,000 lbs., which will pound our roads and bridges even farther into the ground.

Beyond destroying our roads, increasing the weight of trucks will shift freight traffic from our state’s railroads and onto our state’s highways. I care about this because I’m a railroad worker and a union representative for railroad workers, and this bad idea will put railroaders out of work.

Losing good-paying railroad jobs is one thing, but this is just plain bad public policy because it further tilts the competitive playing field in favor of trucks to the detriment of railroads.

Railroads build and maintain their own tracks and even pay property taxes on rail lines while no one pays property taxes on roads.  The existing 105,500 lb. trucks do not pay for the damage they cause to our roads today. Increasing truck weights creates an even bigger subsidy and will cause this distortion in market forces to shift more rail freight onto the highways. Short Line railroads are particularly sensitive to this competitive shift because they are engaged in more short-haul traffic.

All of this will lead to more trucks on our highways, not fewer. And these additional monster trucks will impact the rest of us in our cars and trucks. Heavier trucks are more likely to roll over; they have significantly higher crash rates and, as a matter of pure physics, heavier trucks will cause more severe crashes. Finally, multi-trailer trucks have higher out-of-service violation rates compared to traditional single-trailer trucks on the road today. This is significant because the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found trucks with out-of-service violations are over three times more likely to be involved in a crash.

While a handful of shippers may benefit from this change in transportation policy, it is North Dakota taxpayers, rail workers and motorists who will pay the price.

John Risch is the National Legislative Director for SMART, Transportation Division (formerly United Transportation Union)