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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 Chapter 3 Regulatory Options A description is given in Chapter 1 of how, despite widespread dissatisfaction with aspects of present federal truck size and weight regulations, recent efforts at reform have not been successful. Three impediments that may account for this difficulty are identified in Chapter 2. First, analyses have not started with clear definitions of the objectives of reform. Second, evaluation is not integrated with the management of the regulatory program, so no established mechanisms exist for measuring performance, considering proposed revisions, or establishing policy direction. Third, certain important effects of the regulations on highway costs are poorly understood or have not been assessed with the most appropriate methods. As described in Chapter 2, with present knowledge it is not possible to carry out a complete and satisfactory prospective evaluation of all the consequences of size and weight regulatory alternatives. Proposals for improvements to the regulations should take these impediments into account. Therefore, institutional arrangements for overseeing change in federal regulation in a way that would increase the likelihood of beneficial outcomes and for remedying deficiencies in knowledge about the costs and benefits of the regulations are examined in this chapter. The need for an independent organization chartered to conduct the essential regulatory support functions of monitoring, evaluation, research, and oversight is described. With these new capabilities in place, the federal government and the states would be in a better position to manage the regulatory program, and policy options would be opened up that otherwise would be impractical. Proposals for changes in federal truck size and weight regulations are also outlined. Implementation of any of these proposals would make use of the new evaluation and research organization’s capabilities. The proposals include the recommendations of TRB Special Report 225, Truck Weight Limits: Issues and Options (TRB 1990a); a modified version of the Truck Weight Limits proposal; and a proposal for more liberal federal standards that has similarities with cer-
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 tain industry proposals and with practices in other countries. Finally, two methods of regulating truck use that depart from conventional federal regulatory practice are described: performance standards and greater use of pricing incentives to manage truck traffic. In its direction for the present study, Congress asked TRB to review the merits of the Truck Weight Limits recommendations. The second proposal, the modified version of Truck Weight Limits, would share most of the objectives of the Truck Weight Limits proposal, but would respond to some of the criticisms the original proposal received when the study was published. The third proposal would represent a federal initiative to move U.S. size and weight policy in the direction that the evaluations of past size and weight studies imply might yield the greatest benefits. The TRB and DOT studies reach generally optimistic conclusions about the potential benefits of liberalizing the regulations, but as argued in Chapter 2, their estimates contain large uncertainties and some likely errors. The risk from these uncertainties becomes greater as the magnitude of the proposed change in regulations becomes greater. Therefore, this last proposal cannot be evaluated adequately without improved information. None of these regulatory packages is presented here as the optimal federal size and weight regulatory scheme. In Chapter 5, a description is given of how the impacts of their provisions should be subject to evaluation, making use of the organizational arrangements described in the first section of this chapter. Performance standards and pricing are not presented as alternatives to the first three proposals. Rather, they are regulatory techniques that can be combined with any proposal to magnify its effectiveness. INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS TO ALLOW FACT-BASED REGULATION Effective federal regulation of truck size and weight and effective federal oversight of state administration of federal regulations require monitoring, evaluation on an ongoing basis, and research. The federal government does not have the necessary capabilities today. Organizational arrangements that would be suited to fulfilling these requirements are outlined in this section. The committee’s recommendations regarding the establishment of new arrangements are presented in Chapter 5. The four subsections below address in turn specification of the necessary federal oversight activities; the matters of funding, personnel, and legislative authorization; organizations that could serve as models for the needed arrangements; and the conduct of pilot studies, which would be a useful evaluation technique.
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 Essential Research, Evaluation, and Oversight Functions In Chapter 2, it is argued that regulation ideally is an ongoing process in which research and prospective analysis form the basis for development and enactment of regulations, the effects of regulations are systematically monitored, and the results of monitoring suggest needs and opportunities for improved regulation. Historically, in the case of size and weight regulation, this cycle has not functioned. Research, evaluation, and monitoring have been sporadic and unsystematic and have not been closely linked to revision of the regulations. Specifically, the following activities would be required to institutionalize a process of ongoing improvement of federal regulations: The conduct of research studies addressing fundamental questions about the relationship of vehicle characteristics to highway transport costs, and pilot studies of proposed new vehicles and related operating practices. The research agenda should be determined in a process open to proposals from the private sector, the states, and others. The following are examples of fundamental research questions, suggested by the gaps in knowledge identified in Chapter 2: Effects of truck performance on traffic flow and pollutant emissions on urban roads; Effects of configuration and other design features on accident involvement rates of existing trucks; and Bridge costs of truck traffic and best practices for managing bridge systems, taking into account safety, bridge construction and maintenance costs, and highway transport costs. The importance of pilot studies is described later in the chapter. Monitoring and program evaluation on an ongoing basis. Program evaluations would gauge whether practices intended to control accident risks and to operate highways efficiently (including size and weight regulations) were functioning as intended. Monitoring here means systematic observation to maintain up-to-date information in three areas: commercial motor vehicle traffic volumes and the distributions of dimensions and configurations of vehicles; the administration of regulations, including enforcement and fees; and costs of commercial motor vehicle traffic to highway agencies and to the public, including accidents and infrastructure costs. The design of data collection systems for monitoring depends on the specific objectives, but most needs would require data collection using scientifically designed sampling techniques. Observing the consequences of changes in federal regulations would be an important monitoring and evalua-
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 tion task. Monitoring activities could be joint federal–state efforts, but for purposes of federal regulation, ensuring the reliability and adequacy of information would be a federal responsibility. Support for state implementation of federal size and weight regulations. Oversight is a necessary function under present federal law. In addition, a federally supervised permitting program, which is an element of the regulatory options described later in this chapter, would require procedures for reviewing state permitting programs to certify that they were meeting federal requirements and for developing model regulations and model permitting programs as guidance to the states. The scope of these activities is well beyond the current federal commitment to evaluating the performance of federal regulations and overseeing their application by the states, and does not align with the competencies of any existing federal agency. To implement the federally supervised permitting program, it would be necessary to create an organizational home for these oversight functions. The most suitable arrangement would be an independent organization with a permanent charter to evaluate commercial motor vehicle performance and the effects of size and weight regulation. This organization, which might be called the Commercial Traffic Effects Institute, would be chartered to carry out a program of development of federal size and weight regulations and related highway management practices, recommend regulatory changes, evaluate the results of implementation of new regulations, and support state implementation of federal regulations. The Institute would be authorized to enter into agreements with private-sector entities to conduct joint programs of data collection, research, and evaluation. The Institute would use the results of pilot studies and of its research to formulate recommendations for changes in federal regulations when it had sound evidence that the changes would further congressionally defined objectives. It would recommend adjustments when its monitoring and program evaluations revealed that regulations were not working as intended or when innovations in truck or highway technology created conditions not envisioned when the regulations were enacted. The Institute also would make recommendations to harmonize areas of federal highway policy related to size and weight regulation and to truck costs, including practices and requirements regarding safety regulation, enforcement, infrastructure design and management, and user fees.
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 A successful organization such as that described above would come to be seen by industry, state governments, and others as a means to implement ideas about more efficient highway management and truck regulation. That such an opportunity hardly exists today is one of the most unsatisfactory aspects of the existing regulatory arrangement. Industry would be expected to bring proposals to the Institute, especially if industry were involved in the organization’s structure. Numerous examples may be cited of good-faith proposals from industry and the states for modifications to federal standards that never received due consideration, in part because no mechanism existed for evaluating them. Facilitating innovation would require processes perceived to be open, objective, and scientifically sound; access to adequate resources and the authority to enter into agreements for the conduct of evaluations; and a formal, defined relationship between research and evaluation results and regulatory decisions. Authorization, Funding, and Personnel Congressional action would be necessary to create the Institute. Legislation would specify its charge; its powers and responsibilities; and its governance, including the nature of state and private-sector involvement. Creation of the Institute, together with introduction of the federally supervised state permitting program discussed later in this chapter, would correct an anomaly in the manner in which federal size and weight regulation is administered. Whereas other spheres of federal regulation are overseen by executive-branch agencies with established, ongoing responsibility for regulatory development, federal size and weight regulations have been established almost exclusively by direct legislation. DOT has certain rulemaking responsibilities, but their scope is restricted (for example, to definitional questions). In other areas of regulation, the responsible executive agency routinely carries out evaluations because it has the authority to make adjustments as necessary to respond to emerging problems and changing technology. Examples are the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, the limited range of executive agency responsibility has discouraged evaluation of size and weight regulations. It is worth noting that the ICC, in the first federal truck size and weight study in 1941, foresaw problems inherent in direct legislative standards setting:
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 The problems to be faced in the exercise of Federal powers in this regard [size and weight regulation] do not permit of detailed statutory expression of precise standards generally and universally applicable; there obviously is need for administrative determination in the light of the facts of given situations as related to the declared standard of Congress that commerce be not unreasonably burdened (ICC 1941, 26). The solution proposed by the ICC, that Congress give it authority to set standards administratively for particular geographic or commercial circumstances, might have proven too cumbersome, and Congress did not act at the time on the ICC’s recommendations. The state permitting program discussed later, under federal supervision and with support of the Institute, is an alternative that would avoid the problems with direct legislative standards setting identified by the ICC, make use of the technical competence and local knowledge of the state governments for selection of detailed standards within a range of alternatives, and ensure that federal interests are safeguarded. Congress could retain its historical practice of establishing regulations directly by legislation rather than delegating standards setting to an executive agency, but states would have flexibility within a federally defined range, and Congress would rely on the formal mechanism it had created in the Institute for evaluating and proposing regulatory changes. Past studies of the use of research in administering federal regulations have observed that a conflict exists between regulation and evaluation. The regulatory agency’s goals are to see that rules are promulgated and defended from attacks; research may be perceived as lending credence to doubt about the aims and effectiveness of the rules and so as a source of delays and challenges. (TRB 1997, 28–29; NRC 1991, 15) One way to prevent this conflict from interfering with research would be to create an independent body charged with improving the performance of the regulations. This body’s research results and recommendations would be formally linked to the regulatory process, but it would not have direct regulatory or enforcement responsibilities. The charge to the Institute would be critical to its success. A vague charge would be a handicap; as pointed out in Chapter 2, the absence of clear, congressionally defined objectives for reform has reduced the value of past DOT truck size and weight studies and hindered progress toward better regulations. However, if the Institute’s charge specified practical goals and directed it to find means of attaining them and of
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 overcoming any obstacles, the Institute would have the direction necessary for its success. Improved efficiency of highway transportation, considering all the important private and public costs involved, should be the fundamental goal. It would be necessary to provide stable and adequate funding. Funding from highway user fees would be appropriate. Carrier contributions for individual projects also would be appropriate. For example, a group of carriers in one industry segment or one region might have a particular interest in having research or a pilot study conducted on a vehicle or operating practice they believed would be of value to them. In such a circumstance, the carriers should be expected to contribute a major portion of the costs of the evaluations. Legislation would be needed to provide the proper legal form for such contributions. Estimating a budget for the Institute would not be possible until a work plan for the initial activities had been prepared. Preparation of such a work plan would be the initial task of the Institute itself, in consultation with other federal agencies, the states, and interested private-sector parties. The objective of the Institute would be to reduce the public costs (including safety costs and the cost of publicly provided infrastructure) and private costs of commercial motor vehicle transportation. Estimates of past studies suggest that savings could be on the order of several billion dollars annually. If spending of perhaps 1 percent of potential savings were required to conduct necessary oversight and evaluation through the Institute, the cost would not appear unreasonable. The composition of the Institute’s staff also would be critical. A professional staff with diverse expertise would be essential to conduct the program of research, monitoring, evaluation, and development of regulatory proposals. This staff would have to include economists and other social scientists, statisticians with skills in experimental design and program evaluation, human factors researchers, and mechanical and civil engineers. Staff knowledge of public and private administration also would be necessary. Organizational Models Three organizations that can provide a model for the Institute are the National Road Transport Commission (NRTC) of Australia, the arrangements established in Canada for development of the 1988 interprovincial agreement on weights and dimensions, and the U.S. Health Effects Institute (HEI). These organizations have had goals
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 related to those proposed above for the Institute. None of them can be copied directly, since two are in countries whose government institutions differ from those of the United States, and one is from a different sphere of regulation. However, these three organizations are evidence that the proposed arrangement could be successful and indicate some of the keys to success. National Road Transport Commission The Australian NRTC, formed in 1991, is making progress on regulatory issues that defied resolution for many years. Its mandate is broad, but among its most prominent projects is development of new nationwide size and weight standards. The key elements of the Australian arrangement are as follows (NRTC 2000): The NRTC was created by an act of the national parliament and an intergovernmental agreement among all the states and the national government. The national legislation was a mandate for change in a certain direction, but left the details to be resolved by the commission process. The mandate called for improved road transport productivity, encouragement of innovation, continuous monitoring and updating of regulations as necessary, facilitation of international harmonization, and improvement in the effectiveness and administrative costs of compliance enforcement. The NRTC’s governing body is the Australian Transport Council, made up of the transport ministers of each state government and the national transport minister. The intergovernmental agreements provide, in spirit, that once the Commission has designed and evaluated a regulation on a topic within its purview and the Council has approved it, the state governments will adopt it. Most of the regulations are regarded as state rather than national responsibilities—a key difference from the U.S. situation, in which there is established precedent for federal preemption of state regulations. Industry participates actively, but in an advisory capacity. There are no industry seats on the governing body. Funding is entirely from the government, although industry may make in-kind contributions. The NRTC’s approach is strongly oriented toward relying on research to develop proposals and on ongoing monitoring and evaluation of regulations. The Commission has a role in “coordinating and monitoring” actual adoption of regulations by state governments. Adoption by the states has been at least partly successful, if imperfect.
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 The NRTC’s mandate covers, in addition to size and weight limits, motor carrier safety standards (e.g., hours of service), road user taxes, vehicle emissions, vehicle safety, and traffic regulations—matters that in the United States fall within the jurisdictions (at the federal level) of EPA, NHTSA, and FMCSA. No such broad mandate would be possible or necessary in the United States. However, there is a gap at the federal level in this country in that no agency has ongoing administrative responsibility for size and weight regulations. FHWA has limited responsibility, but the major features of federal size and weight regulations are not enacted following the same mechanisms as, for example, the rules on truck driver hours of service or motor vehicle emissions—that is, with an executive agency determining the specifics of regulations through rulemaking, following a policy directive from Congress. Canadian Interprovincial Standards In 1988 the Ministers of Transportation of the provinces and territories of Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Interprovincial Weights and Dimensions as the culmination of a 5-year effort involving discussions, research, and regulatory development aimed at reducing unnecessary variability in regulation across Canada. As a result of this agreement, the trucking industry in Canada has been provided with minimum, nationally accepted standards for vehicle size and weight that apply to a network of highways across the country. A major research program was conducted in support of the interprovincial discussions. Research included examination of the influence of size and weight variables on vehicle stability and on pavement performance. The results of the research program were used in developing a set of regulatory principles whereby vehicle performance and highway infrastructure were among the factors that determined the selection of size and weight limits (Pearson 1989). The Roads and Transportation Association of Canada facilitated the interprovincial discussions. The research program was conducted by a nonprofit corporation created for the purpose and funded jointly by the provinces and by industry. The interprovincial agreement also created a permanent arrangement to monitor developments and improve standards. An appendix to the Memorandum of Understanding created the Task Force on Vehicle Weights and Dimensions Policy, reporting to the Council of Ministers of Transportation, whose members are the transportation ministers of all the provinces and territories and the federal government. The Task
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 Force’s charge is to develop and recommend a national strategy for the evolution of vehicle weight and dimension regulations in Canada. This arrangement has maintained dialogue between government and industry on technology, regulatory harmonization priorities, and research needs, and has ensured that the national standards are monitored, expanded, and refined to reflect experience and changing circumstances. As a result, the interprovincial standards have been revised three times since 1988. Examples of issues that the Task Force is addressing at present are harmonization of conditions for oversize/overweight special permits, training and accreditation of escort vehicle drivers, and development of common standards for automobile transporters. As in the case of the Australian NRTC, it was the need to reach agreement among all the provincial governments that provided the stimulus for the Canadian initiative. This exigency does not exist in the United States because of the established strong federal role in size and weight regulation. Nonetheless, the Canadian example shows how the process of seeking agreement among diverse public and private entities can be facilitated by information produced in a manner that is perceived as open, objective, and competent. Health Effects Institute HEI is an independent, nonprofit corporation formed in 1980 to provide research on the health effects of pollutants from motor vehicles and from other sources in the environment. It is funded jointly by EPA and industry (HEI n.d.). HEI is divided into two independent committees—the Health Research Committee and the Health Review Committee—to separate the functions of planning, funding, and administration of research from the function of critical review of research. The Health Research Committee consults with HEI sponsors to determine research priorities and to develop the 5-year HEI Strategic Plan, which is reviewed annually. Once research priorities have been identified, contract proposals are solicited and reviewed with respect to scientific quality and integration with the overall research program. Studies recommended by the Research Committee are finally evaluated by the Board of Directors. The Research Committee monitors research in progress, but its involvement ends when a final report is submitted. The Health Review Committee conducts in-depth evaluation of the final reports and releases the reports, together with the committee’s commentaries, to sponsors and the public.
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 Pilot Studies The most credible and efficient method of addressing many evaluation questions would be a pilot study, that is, a controlled experimental trial of a vehicle specification, element of equipment, or operating practice following a scientifically designed research protocol, and involving collection of data in actual operating conditions or very close approximations thereof. In such a study, the primary impact of interest (e.g., frequency and severity of accidents) would be observed rather than proxies (e.g., vehicle stability or driver performance). A study could be limited to measuring safety effects, some other truck impact (e.g., infrastructure or traffic effects), or a set of impacts. The conduct of pilot studies would probably be the most visible function of the Institute. A pilot study requires the participation of vehicle operators. Operator participation can allow data to be collected with greater detail, accuracy, speed, and economy than is the case with study designs that do not depend on such cooperation. However, a pilot study of a vehicle proposed for regulatory approval would have an inherent source of bias because industry participants would know they were part of an experiment whose outcome would affect them. Blind trials (the type used, for example, for drug trials conducted to gain Food and Drug Administration approval) usually would not be possible. In most evaluations, there would be no practical way to avoid this potential bias, but the problem would not prevent the pilots from producing useful information if data collection and other procedures were audited by the Institute. Insurance against misleading results would be provided by continuing to monitor the impacts of any vehicle approved for general use after the end of the pilot study. A study conducted by Consolidated Freightways, a trucking company, that compared accident rates of tractor-semitrailers and twin trailers in the company’s operations illustrates that useful evaluations can be carried out in a study of feasible scale (Glennon 1981, reviewed in TRB 1986, 310–311). The study was conducted for purposes of litigation. If a similar methodology were employed for regulatory applications, a procedure would be established for the oversight agency to verify the integrity of the data. The carrier assembled data for 300,000 trips of tractor-semitrailers and twin-trailer combinations. Each tractor-semitrailer trip was matched to a twin-trailer trip operating on the same day over the identical route. Rates of accident involvement per VMT were computed for the two configurations. The
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 is deposited in a special fund that may be drawn upon for highway improvements mutually agreed upon by the province and the private-sector participants, as well as for research, truck safety activities, and program administration. Some agreements call for the private-sector operator to deliver the road improvements necessary for operation of its vehicles. The program has been used primarily to allow operation on secondary roads of trucks that meet the state’s normal primary road dimensional standards, but some larger configurations also are operating. The number of participants is small at present. The province would like to see participation expand, but recognizes that a larger program would require more streamlined administrative procedures (Lang et al. 2001; Saskatchewan n.d.). PROGRAM FOR LARGE REDUCTIONS IN SHIPPER COSTS The TRB and DOT size and weight policy studies described in Chapter 2 considered regulatory alternatives involving liberalization of limits beyond the Truck Weight Limits recommendations. The methods and assumptions used by those studies imply that liberalization would yield benefits up to a point where trucks substantially larger than those now in use were allowed in those regions where road and traffic conditions were suitable. The proposal outlined in this section indicates the kinds of limits that would be closer to efficient practice, that is, to limits that would allow the public road system to yield the greatest public benefits according to the results of those earlier evaluations. Efficient use of the nation’s highways means extracting the greatest economic benefit from the existing highway system and from future highway investments, taking into account the costs imposed by vehicles on other highway users and on the public. Efficient use of the public road system requires the right government policies regarding highway design, operating practices, and user fees. Size and weight regulations can contribute to efficiency if they are combined with appropriate policies in all these areas. The proposal is not presented as a package to be considered for early implementation. Because of the uncertainties and flaws in the projections of the past studies, the risk of unanticipated harmful consequences arising from radical change in the limits would be great. However, the past studies’ results raise the possibility that worthwhile public benefits could be gained from regulations such as those outlined below. The Institute proposed earlier in this chapter would be a suitable organization to conduct the research and evaluation that would be
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 needed before decisions were made on implementation. The recommendations in Chapter 5 regarding pilot studies and research indicate some of the necessary activities. The size and weight provisions in the proposal are as follows: Replacement of existing federal weight regulations with a new federal bridge formula without a weight maximum, but retaining the present federal single- and tandem-axle weight limits. Candidates for the formula would include the “Uncapped TTI HS-20” formula or the “Combined TTI-HS-20/Formula B” defined in Truck Weight Limits (pp. 189–204). Introduction of a new federal tridem-axle weight limit of 51,000 lb. Federal authorization of operation of six-axle tractor-semitrailers of up to 97,000 lb, eight-axle B-train double-trailer configurations of up to a specified weight, and eight-axle twin 33-ft trailer combinations of up to a specified weight on a specified system of roads (this provision could be either a federal requirement, like the 1983 federal law requiring the states to accept twin trailers and 80,000-lb semis, or a state option). A provision allowing limited expansion, as a state option, of use of turnpike doubles and of triple-trailers in rural areas. This package would be consistent with proposals from some segments of industry, including the Peterson-Cook bill first introduced in Congress in 1999, which would allow 97,000-lb trucks at the option of each state and which are supported by a group of shippers and carriers. The package would be similar in effect to the present Canadian interprovincial limits, which were adopted by all the provinces in 1988 after completion of a government–industry research program (RTAC 1988). The Canadian limits make no provision for turnpike doubles or triples. Although NAFTA requires the United States, Canada, and Mexico to seek harmonization of standards related to vehicle weights and dimensions, progress has been slow to date, and great disparities exist in limits among the three nations. By allowing U.S. operation of trucks with dimensions closer to those employed in Canada and Mexico, the proposal would largely accomplish harmonization. The proposal outlined here embodies a continued strong federal role in direct regulation of truck dimensions (in contrast to the proposal in the preceding section), as well as in finance of needed infrastructure
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 and in monitoring of program performance. Similar outcomes probably would be attainable through a more flexible regulatory regime or with greater devolution of responsibility to the states. The strong federal role might be justified because leadership would be important in making such a large change in regulatory practice and also perhaps because funding needs might be very unevenly distributed among the states. Potential Benefits Truck Weight Limits evaluates application of the Canadian interprovincial limits to the United States. The “North American trade” regulatory scenario (in the version that assumes establishment of a 51,000-lb federal tridem axle weight limit) in the 2000 DOT study also envisions use of similar configurations (DOT 2000, Vol. III, III.10–III.17). The key vehicles in both these evaluations are the 97,000 tractor-semitrailer and the 131,000 short, heavy double-trailer combination; neither evaluation addresses expanded use of turnpike doubles or triples. The estimates in these two studies suggest the potential for impressive public benefits. Truck Weight Limits estimates that nationwide application of the Canadian interprovincial limits would yield annual shipper cost savings (at 1995 prices and traffic volumes) of nearly $12 billion, equal to 6 percent of the prior costs of all truck freight transportation. The negative aspect of the evaluation in Truck Weight Limits is the estimate of infrastructure costs. Annual bridge costs are predicted to increase by $2.4 billion and pavement costs by $500 million. If bridges were replaced to accommodate the larger trucks only on principal highways, bridge costs would be $1 billion annually. The DOT 2000 study estimates similar freight cost savings for its “North American trade” scenario (with a 51,000-lb tridem-axle weight limit). Projected annual private freight cost savings are $14.5 billion (at present-day traffic volumes and prices). Savings to prior truck users are estimated to be 6 percent of prior expenditures on truck freight (DOT 2000, Vol. 3, p. XII.4). As in the TRB study, the major drawback, according to the estimates, is the cost of replacing bridges judged inadequate to carry the heavier trucks. Estimated bridge replacement costs total $65 billion, or $4.5 billion annually if amortized at 7 percent as assumed in the TRB study. Even more problematic is the estimate of $329 billion (or $23 billion/year) in the costs of delay to highway users due to bridge construction projects (DOT 2000, VI-12).
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 Obstacles and Uncertainties Among the most apparent problems in implementing such a proposal would be managing bridge costs, financing highway improvements, and maintaining safety. Bridge Costs Although the Canadian interprovincial limits showed the greatest net benefits among all options evaluated, the Truck Weight Limits committee presumably did not recommend adoption of those limits in part because of the magnitude of the estimated bridge costs, especially the up-front expenditures that would be needed in the first few years after the limits were changed, according to the study’s cost estimation methodology, to accommodate the new trucks on a useful network of major roads. In the DOT evaluation, the addition of delay costs due to bridge construction (a cost ignored in the TRB study) boosts the costs of its “North American trade” scenario (but not of all the LCV scenarios evaluated) above the benefits. Chapter 2 explains why the method used to derive bridge cost estimates in the past studies is inaccurate. It is likely that if the trucks evaluated in these studies came into use, it would be feasible to maintain or reduce the risk of bridge failures at lower cost than these studies’ estimates through more intensive inspection and maintenance of bridges, routing restrictions, and more effective enforcement. Some states with older bridge stocks, lower historical design standards, or less adequate maintenance programs would face the need for substantial bridge replacement expenditures. States would also encounter costs for early replacement of bridges because of accelerated fatigue deterioration. Providing the necessary institutional and financial support for improved bridge management and for justified bridge replacements would be a challenge for the state highway agencies. Finance Even though there are grounds for regarding past studies’ bridge cost estimates as misleading, states would face initial and continuing costs for accommodating trucks of the dimensions provided for under this proposal. Therefore, a financing plan would be essential for implementation. The keys would be raising the necessary funds from users of the new equipment, and implementing a program for prioritizing and staging bridge replacements that took into account the importance of routes to freight traffic. The most reliable test of the economic justification of the new regulations would be carriers’ and shippers’
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 willingness to finance genuinely necessary infrastructure upgrades through user fees or other financial arrangements with states. Safety Historical experience with similar vehicles, including experience in other countries, together with the available research results, although imperfect and fragmentary, provides sufficient justification for the conduct of trials to demonstrate the safety of the vehicles this proposal would bring into common use. The trials would have to be large enough to generate data sufficient to calculate differences among vehicle configurations in accident involvement rates and to assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures. Careful experimental design of the trials would be essential. Conduct of large-scale trials would be the only means of putting to rest doubts about safety impacts. INCREASING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF REGULATION: PERFORMANCE STANDARDS AND PRICING Opportunities exist to establish a direction for reform of size and weight regulations and related highway management practices that would lead to a more efficient and safer highway system in future decades. Incremental regulatory changes, as they occurred, could be made in such a way that progress would be maintained toward an eventual transformation of size and weight regulation into a highway management mechanism fundamentally different from present practice. The principles underlying the new scheme would be regulation by performance standards and pricing to provide truck operators with financial incentives to choose efficient equipment and operating practices. Performance Standards Performance standards would directly limit the behavior of vehicles instead of limiting dimensions or requiring specific equipment or appurtenances. For example, one source of the concern that increasing the gross weight limit might degrade safety is that if gross weight is increased for a vehicle of a specified length, the vehicle’s center of gravity is likely to be elevated. Therefore, it will have a greater propensity to roll over in use, and hence will be at greater risk of involvement in accidents. The performance standards approach would involve first verifying that this causal chain is valid and then regulating some direct measure of propensity to roll over, instead of attempting to regulate the rollover hazard indirectly (and probably ineffectively) by means of the gross weight limit. All vehicles that had high rollover risk would be
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 affected by the application of such a standard (rather than just those vehicles operating at the gross weight limit), and operators would have an incentive to find ways of reducing the rollover propensity of their trucks without sacrificing productivity. The term performance-based standards denotes an approach to vehicle regulation that is intended to yield some of the benefits while avoiding the implementation difficulties of pure performance standards. A performance-based standard is a dimensional limit on vehicles that is derived from and justified by an explicitly defined performance standard. For example, the performance standard might be ability to perform a specified turning movement without encroaching more than a specified distance into the opposing lane. Dimensional limits (e.g., on spacing between articulation points) derived from this standard would be promulgated as performance-based standards. The performance-based standards approach has the advantages that each dimensional limit has a clear rationale. If more is learned through research about the relation of safety (or other vehicle operating costs) to the performance in question, or if innovation leads to new techniques for satisfying the performance standard, the dimensional standard can readily be revised. In contrast, some dimensional limits in effect today are fossils, justified originally on the basis of highway conditions that have not been relevant for decades. The performance-based standards approach is being explored as a basis for harmonization of international limits under the NAFTA accords (LTSS 1999) and is the basis for national standards under development in Australia (NRTC 2000, 11–14). The success of performance standards depends on empirically establishing the links between performance measures and accident risks and bridge and pavement impacts, and on designing a practical certification process. The performance–risk linkages are not known and must be established by research. Pricing The benefits of any of the standards described above would be increased if they were adopted along with a system of user fees more closely aligned with the public costs generated by each truck trip. Although Truck Weight Limits recommends that fees related to costs be adopted to accompany the proposed new size and weight limits, that study’s evaluations of regulatory alternatives assumes that no changes in the structure of user fees would occur. As a consequence, even in regulatory options that show large net benefits in the evaluations, changing
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 the regulations would stimulate some truck operations of questionable economic value. For example, several of the options outlined in the study would encourage use of five-axle twin trailers with weights of more than 90,000 lb, a vehicle that generates relatively very high pavement wear costs (TRB 1990a, 195–196). Charging these vehicles for the costs they incurred would eliminate this problem by stimulating most operators to choose more road-friendly configurations and by providing the revenue needed to repair wear caused by users who did use the high-cost vehicles. Proper user fees would in this way separate the beneficial uses from the uneconomical ones, magnifying the net economic benefits of the new limits. Metering road use would not be fundamentally more difficult technically than metering the use of other public utilities—telephone, electricity, or water. Matching fees to costs would greatly facilitate the implementation of any new standards that promised net benefits but required investment in upgrading infrastructure. The new user fees would provide the revenue the state highway agencies needed to carry out the upgrades. The state would take on a risk in making the initial, most essential upgrades, but over time the state could defer upgrades until revenues for the new truck fees began to materialize, to reduce the risk of overinvestment. In the proposal outlined above for a federally supervised state permitting program, states would impose fees on permit operators related to the costs of operating the permit trucks. The estimates of past studies summarized in Chapter 2 indicate that costs arising from the new trucks’ impacts on bridges would be the largest category of highway agency costs of the program. Even if the highway agency understands its bridge costs well, charging trucks for bridge impacts of the federally supervised permit program outlined above would present difficulties. As described in Chapter 2, the cost of a passage of a permit truck would vary greatly from bridge to bridge, and therefore fees truly reflective of costs would have to depend on the routes each permit vehicle used. Some states already have procedures for evaluating bridge capacities on individual routes as part of their procedures for reviewing permit operations. However, levying route-specific fees and enforcing route restrictions for large numbers of permit vehicles would be a formidable administrative undertaking; therefore simpler fee schemes would be acceptable in some circumstances, particularly where bridge impacts were expected to be small for a particular vehicle class in a particular state. It would be technically feasible today to automate
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 route monitoring with the automatic vehicle identification technology described in Chapter 4. As also described in Chapter 2, it is likely that there are many bridges that could safely bear the loads of larger trucks but which would require greater expenditure for maintenance and inspection and would have reduced useful lifespans. Methods of estimating these costs exist and have been applied, although present models do not lead to very precise cost estimates. These added costs might be proportional to the volume of permit traffic up to some traffic level but increase at an accelerating rate at higher volumes. Therefore the appropriate fee to charge a permit truck could depend on the volume of permit traffic on the routes the truck used. If accelerating costs were not detected, the state would face the risk of financial loss and possibly of degraded safety. Also in such a circumstance, bridge fees equal to the average cost per truck of use of the bridge would be too low to cover the marginal cost of additional permit traffic and would therefore encourage uneconomic permit operations. A state adopting the permit system might determine that some of its bridges would be inadequate to carry the larger trucks safely. The state would have to decide whether to bar the use of these bridges by the permit trucks or to replace or strengthen them, and also how to finance any replacements or strengthening. Borrowing on expected revenues from future permit users of the bridge would entail financial risk for the state but might be the best compromise solution to this problem. There would be some cases where most of the benefits of replacing a bridge would be gained by a small number of shippers or carriers (for example, a bridge on a lightly traveled road that is the access route to a mine). It would be reasonable for the state to seek direct financial participation of these beneficiaries before replacing the bridge. Finally, estimates for the DOT 2000 truck size and weight study presented in Chapter 2 indicate that the cost to highway users of traffic delays caused by bridge construction is significant, sometimes exceeding the highway agency’s construction cost for bridge replacements or improvements. One purpose of charging fees to permit trucks would be to ensure that the costs to the public of operating the trucks did not exceed their benefits, and the fees should on this principle reflect the delay costs as well. At least, the states should measure delay costs at construction sites, employ all cost-effective measures for reducing them (for example, by accelerating construction schedules and through traffic management), and, if construction is undertaken to accommodate
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 permit trucks, cover the cost of these delay-reducing measures with fees imposed on the permit trucks. The 1989 economic study Road Work, described in Chapter 2, presents evidence that even if no change were made in truck size and weight limits or in highway agency design practices, and if a very simplified form of road pricing for trucks were introduced, pricing would yield substantial economic benefits by providing operators with incentives to select equipment and routes that reduced pavement wear (Small et al. 1989). Benefits could be much greater than estimated in that study if operators also were allowed to carry heavier loads when they were willing to pay any added infrastructure costs or to adopt equipment that mitigated those costs. SUMMARY The failure under existing institutional arrangements to adequately evaluate the performance of size and weight regulations and the lack of progress on improving understanding of many aspects of the costs and benefits of truck transportation point to the need for creating a new organization authorized to conduct research in support of development of federal size and weight standards, to recommend regulatory changes, and to monitor and evaluate the results of regulation. Strong federal oversight of state permitting, a component of two of the regulatory proposals outlined in this chapter, also would require new organizational arrangements since it would be a function not matching the responsibilities and competence of any existing federal agency. Valid concerns have been raised that the Truck Weight Limits study underestimates the difficulty of putting into effect the enforcement, safety, and fee provisions recommended to accompany new federal weight limits. A modified version of the Truck Weight Limits permit program might constitute a package of reforms with greater credibility. This modified version would include simpler weight limit provisions initially and stronger legislatively defined federal oversight responsibilities, including effective monitoring of performance. It also incorporates ongoing research and evaluation with competent independent oversight that would reduce uncertainties about costs and benefits of regulatory alternatives, leading to continuing improvement in the regulations and reduction of the public and private costs of commercial motor vehicle transportation. The modified version of the Truck Weight Limits recommendations outlined in this chapter involves modest changes in the federal limits. However, evaluations in past studies and experience in some regions
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 of the United States and abroad suggest the possibility that greater increases in truck productivity would ultimately be possible that would yield greater public benefits. The results of the past studies regarding the more radical liberalization proposals are too uncertain to provide a basis for action, but the proposals deserve adequate evaluation. Incorporating performance standards and rational pricing would magnify the effectiveness of any of these regulatory reforms. The federal oversight of state permit programs could evolve toward regulation based on performance standards, but research is essential to link measurable vehicle performance indices to actual on-the-road safety and economy. Although past studies often have recommended that truck user fees match costs, they usually have overlooked how pricing could enhance the benefits of their size and weight regulatory proposals. Performance standards and pricing could help filter out undesirable trucks that might manage to comply with the dimensional limits but would be inconsistent with the principles of economy and safety that are supposed to justify the limits. REFERENCES Abbreviations DOT U.S. Department of Transportation HEI Health Effects Institute ICC Interstate Commerce Commission LTSS North American Free Trade Agreement Land Transportation Standards Subcommittee NRC National Research Council NRTC National Road Transport Commission RTAC Roads and Transportation Association of Canada TRB Transportation Research Board Council, F. M., and J. R. Stewart. n.d. Potential Use of HSIS Data and the Examination of Safety of Longer Combination Vehicles. University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center. DOT. 1999. Conditions and Performance of the Nation’s Highways and Transit Systems. DOT. 2000. Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study. Washington, D.C., Aug. Glennon, J. C. 1981. Consolidated Freightways Corporation v. Larson et al. Matched Pair Analysis, 81-1230, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania, Aug. 12. HEI. n.d. Health Effects Institute: Two Decades of Trusted Science: 2000–2001 Annual Report. www.healtheffects.org/news.htm.
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Regulation of Weights, Lengths, and Widths of Commercial Motor Vechicles: Special Report 267 ICC. 1941. Federal Regulation of the Sizes and Weight of Motor Vehicles; Letter from the Chairman, Interstate Commerce Commission. 77th Congress, 1st Session, House Document No. 354, Government Printing Office, Aug. 14. Lang, A., C. Berthelot, N. Burns, and R. Hanson. 2001. Saskatchewan Rural Partnership Haul Program. Proceedings, International Road Federation. LTSS. 1999. Highway Safety Performance Criteria in Support of Vehicle Weight and Dimension Regulations:Candidate Criteria & Recommended Thresholds. Working Draft, Nov. NRC. 1991. Rethinking the Ozone Problem in Urban and Regional Air Pollution. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. NRTC. 2000. 2000 Annual Report. Melbourne, Australia, Sept. 29. Pearson, J. 1989. From Research to Regulation: The Canadian Agreement on Vehicle Weights and Dimensions. Presented at Second International Symposium on Heavy Vehicle Weights and Dimensions, June. RTAC. 1988. The Memorandum of Understanding on Interprovincial Vehicle Weights and Dimensions: Summary Information. Feb. Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation. n.d. The Saskatchewan Transportation Partnership Policy: Trucking in the 21st Century. www.comt.ca/english/programs/trucking/Sask.htm. Small, K. A., C. Winston, and C. Evans. 1989. Road Work: A New Highway Pricing and Investment Policy, Vol. 29, No. 2, Jan., pp. 7–23. Sparks, G. A., A. T. Horosko, and A. Smith. 1988. Safety Experience of Large Trucks: An Analysis of Sample Size Requirements. Journal of the Transportation Research Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 24–27. TRB. 1986. Special Report 211: Twin Trailer Trucks. National Research Council, Washington, D.C. TRB. 1990a. Special Report 225: Truck Weight Limits: Issues and Options. National Research Council, Washington, D.C. TRB. 1990b. Special Report 227: New Trucks for Greater Productivity and Less Road Wear: An Evaluation of the Turner Proposal. National Research Council, Washington, D.C. TRB. 1997. Clean Air and Highway Transportation: Mandates, Challenges, and Research Opportunities. National Research Council, Washington, D.C.
Representative terms from entire chapter: