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Pile on those truckin' pounds, say Kraft and peers, as opponents cite safety fears

By Ben Bouckley , 21-Dec-2011
Last updated on 22-Dec-2011 at 13:58 GMT

US food giant Kraft says it hopes that more states are allowed to follow the lead of Maine and Vermont and allow heavier 97,000-pound trucks on interstate roads, although opponents fear safety issues.

The producer of Velveeta Shells & Cheese, Cheez Whiz and Capri Sun has also been joined in its push for “heavier, not bigger” trucks by fellow food and beverage giants Hershey, Archer Daniels Midland and Miller Coors.

These companies are members of the 120-strong Washington Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP), which is backing a bill introduced into Congress in February, called the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA) or H.R 763.

If successful, the bill sponsored by Maine democrat Michael Michaud would allow each state in the US to decide the extent of travel by trucks exceeding federal weight limitations of 80,000 pounds.

But only if the vehicle is equipped with at least six axles (to more evenly distribute weight) and – amongst other requirements – does not exceed a gross weight of 97,000 pounds.

Arguments in favour

Advantages urged by CTP members include the ability to meet demand with fewer trucks, reduce their carbon footprint and improve shipping productivity by (for instance) saving on escalating diesel costs.

The Kraft spokesman also confirmed the accuracy of recent quotes given by associate director of transport planning Harry Haney to Bloomberg/Business Week.

Haney said that if SETA were passed, Kraft would make 66,000 fewer truck trips and cut 33m road miles per year, with advantages most apparent in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio.

But bodies such as the American Society of Civil Engineers oppose access for 97,000 pound trucks on the basis of safety, and whether interstate bridges can withstand additional weight.

“Do you really want to keep these heavy loads, have a lower factor of safety and start wearing these bridges faster?” the society’s president, Andrew Herrmann, told Bloomburg/Business Week.

Safety concerns

Presented with this criticism, a spokeswoman for the CTP told DairyReporter.com: “When it comes to bridges, please note that SETA gives each participating state the option to exclude any bridge that could pose a safety risk.

“That fact is often overlooked by anyone who has safety concerns with this legislation. And states like Minnesota note that the benefits of the bill far outweigh the cost of getting their bridge network ready.”

Many EU nations (including the UK) already employed higher truck weights, the spokeswoman added. “SETA simply gives each US state the option to boost the productivity of its transportation network through the use of more productive and properly equipped trucks.”

Asked about the likelihood of SETA passing Congress, John Runyan, executive director of the CTP told this publication: “SETA has growing bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and we feel the legislation will make a great fit for inclusion in the larger Highway Reauthorisation bill, which Congress is set to take up early next year.”

Runyan added: “With funding as limited as it is, the Highway Bill needs to better utilise existing infrastructure, and SETA will help this Highway Reauthorisation legislation meet its goals to fund infrastructure in a sustainable way while protecting and creating jobs. SETA is a clear way for Congress, and US shippers, to safely do more with less.”

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