Improving Trucking Efficiency

The forest products industry faces a nationwide shortage of transportation capacity and inefficiencies. Moving raw materials to mills and moving products to customers is increasingly difficult and costly.

As an important consumer of transportation services, the forest products industry accounted for 6.1 percent of total ton miles across all modes of commodity transportation (truck, rail, boat, air) in 2012, according to the 2012 Census of Transportation, which was released in February 2015.

Specifically, forest products represented 9.4 percent of ton miles for commodities shipped by truck and 3.4 percent of ton miles for commodities shipped by rail. Paper and wood products manufacturing combined ranked 5th among manufacturing industries in terms of 2012 truck tonnage (out of 20 industries).

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) estimates that by 2025, the amount of freight shipped throughout the U.S. will increase by 87 percent from what it was in 2000.

Trucking Capacity Crisis

  • There is a critical capacity issue for shippers: the American Trucking Association’s Truck (ATA) Tonnage index – the bellwether for the state of trucking demand — is at an all time high.
  • Meanwhile, according to ATA available truck capacity has dropped by 16 percent since 2008 — putting additional financial strain on shippers.
  • Recent and upcoming Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration regulations will continue to put a strain on trucking capacity as the industry spends time and money working to comply.
  • Driver shortages further restrict capacity — the ATA estimates the current driver shortfall to be about 48,000 but expects it to grow to nearly 175,000 by 2024.

AF&PA supports making improvements to America’s transportation efficiency by safely increasing the maximum gross vehicle weight on federal interstate highways with an additional axle. Truck weight limits have been frozen at 80,000 pounds on the national highway system for over 30 years.

  • If the weight limit were increased to 91,000 pounds, the number of truck trips taken by the forest products industry could potentially be reduced by 1.4 million, while the number of truck miles traveled could decline by 250 million.
  • These truck trips are essential to deliver logs to mills and distribute finished and semi-finished products such as pulp, paper and paperboard, boxes, envelopes, other converted paper and paperboard products, lumber and panels to customers.

Safely Increasing Weight Limits

  • Takes trucks off the road by making them more productive — an estimated 25 percent reduction in heavy truck loads for all shippers.
  • The U.S. DOT estimates that allowing six-axle trucks to carry more weight on interstates will save $2.4 billion in pavement restoration costs over the next 20 years.
  • They also estimates the impact of implementing the six-axle 91,000 pound trucks would reduce logistics costs by 1.4 percent annually, yielding significant logistics savings of approximately $5.6 billion.
  • More than 90 percent of states allow heavier trucks to access some or all secondary roads, but federal regulations keep them off the interstates — the safest place for truck shipments. In addition, many of the heavier trucks that are already permitted on state roads operate on only five axles – instead of the safer six axles.
  • The U.S. DOT found that the six-axle, 91,000-pound configuration features comparable handling characteristics and improved braking ability, stopping one foot faster than the 80,000-pound five-axle truck currently used throughout the nation.
  • The Maine Bureau of Highway Safety recently noted that congressional action allowing Maine to provide permits for heavier, six-axle trucks to have full access to the interstate highways may have “helped to make roads safer.” This legislative change, which started as a one-year pilot project in the fiscal year 2010 Transportation Appropriations bill, was made permanent in the recent Omnibus. Maine has experienced the least amount of road fatalities in 70 years since the pilot program was implemented.

Our national highway system cannot accommodate the coming surge in increased freight without also making changes to reduce the number of trucks hauling that freight. Congress should revisit truck weight policy to allow each truck to carry more freight safely and efficiently.