U.S. DOT report falls short of Congressional requirements

RIT dean finds fault with a lack of truck size and weight limit guidelines

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James Winebrake

A Rochester Institute of Technology dean chaired a committee that finds fault with a U.S. Department of Transportation report that failed to address ramifications of changes to federal truck size and weight limits.

In a new letter report released Thursday from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the committee, chaired by James Winebrake, dean of RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, says the DOT’s Comprehensive Truck Size & Weight Limits Study lacks a consistent and complete quantitative summary of the alternative configuration scenarios, and major categories of costs, such as expected bridge structural costs, frequency of crashes and infrastructure costs on certain roads, are not estimated.

“The Department of Transportation’s analysis fell short of what we would have expected,” said Winebrake, who has researched the transportation industry including cargo ships and trucks for decades. “The DOT essentially said that because of a lack of data, current regulations should remain in place.”

At issue is whether larger, heavier trucks and trailers should be allowed on the nation’s highways, and what impact these vehicles would have on highway safety, bridges, roads, economic activity, congestion and environmental quality.

DOT asked the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies to convene a committee to review its congressionally mandated study of truck size and weight limits. In its review, the committee considered how the DOT study addresses Congress’ questions and assessed the appropriateness of the methods and data used to produce estimates of impacts of changes in federal truck size and weight limits.

The DOT report could have provided a framework for understanding all the costs and benefits, the committee found. The committee also identified assumptions and simplifications in the DOT study that might result in misleading estimates of infrastructure, traffic and safety impacts.

Although the Academies’ letter report does not take a position on whether or how to change current federal truck size and weight limits, it offers recommendations for improving estimates in each of the impact categories, in order to increase the value of any future truck size and weight studies.

DOT should continue to support areas of research and data development begun in the present study in order to improve exposure data for estimating crash rates, understand the relationship of crash frequency on a road to the traffic volume and mix of vehicle types, and improve the cost-effectiveness of enforcement, the report says.

The Academies’ study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Transportation Research Board is a program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine — private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology and medicine. The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit www.nationalacademies.org.