Proposed legislation promoting more flexibility for states to waive truck weight limits in emergencies could also grant state authorities greater power to increase weight limits for all types of freight, warns a lobby group opposing overweight trucks.

The bipartisan legislation introduced last month by U.S. Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.), called the Modernizing Operations for Vehicles in Emergencies, or ‘MOVE’ Act, is described as “a way to remove unnecessary roadblocks and red tape” to avert supply chain disruptions according to the bill’s sponsors, both of whom represent agribusiness shippers.

“During times of emergency and the pandemic, struggling communities in my district were hit hardest by roadblocks to our supply chain,” Costa, whose district includes parts of California’s San Joaquin Valley, said in a Feb. 29 press release. “This bipartisan legislation will remove barriers that prevent us from delivering vital relief when communities need it most.”

The MOVE Act broadens the circumstances under which states can waive federal weight limits on interstate highways for loads “…that can easily be dismantled or divided.” The wider berth would include natural emergencies like weather, disease, wildfires, or other causes and if supply chains are “substantially impaired in the state, either in terms of slow overall movement, freight traffic congestion, or otherwise,” according to the bill’s language. 

The legislation would more than double the time such waivers could remain in effect, upping the current limit from 120 days to as many as 270 days and allowing states to extend the waivers for another 90 days.

Several trade groups, including the American Trucking Associations and the Shippers Coalition, support the legislation. The latter's members include agribusinesses, aggregates, beverage companies, and other heavy cargo shippers that would benefit most from higher weight limits.

“The MOVE Act is a necessary step forward in ensuring that Shippers Coalition’s members are able to promptly and efficiently respond in times of crisis,” Shippers Coalition Executive Director Sean Joyce said in a statement. “By expanding the definition of an emergency, the legislation guarantees that Americans across the country will continue to have access to essential goods in their times of need.”

Safety Concerns 

The Coalition Against Bigger Trucks opposes efforts to loosen truck weight limit requirements and sees the MOVE Act as a way to empower states to raise weight restrictions further. The group says this can lead to higher crash rates and potentially wreak havoc on roads subject to frost laws.

A 2016 U.S. Department of Transportation report states heavier trucks have higher crash rates than 80,000-pound, single-trailer trucks.

“State governors would have unilateral authority beyond emergencies and natural disasters to arbitrarily increase truck weights based on undefined definitions of supply chain disruptions or freight congestion,” CABT President Brad Roseberry told the price reporting agency FreightWaves.

“There’s nothing prohibiting a state to reissue another permit when the initial one expires, so this could go on forever,” Roseberry added. “It’s basically a blank check for states to raise truck weights — that’s huge.”

Congress is considering several proposals to allow heavier trucks on federal interstates. One proposal is a pilot program allowing up to 91,000 pounds on six axles. Another proposal would allow certain auto haulers to carry up to 88,000 pounds. The aim is to ease truck weight restrictions and improve transportation efficiency.

With memories of supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic still fresh in many minds and turmoil in the Middle East threatening to again cause ripple effects to the U.S. economy, legislators are under pressure to ensure the recovery remains on track, weight issues notwithstanding.