Since 1982 regulations have limited trailer lengths to twin 28s. The updated surface transportation funding bill allows 33-foot long double trailers to operate on Interstate and other highways regardless of state laws. Although the bill allows an increased trailer length there is no increase in the federal weight limit.
The long overdue update has been approved by the House. It still needs to survive a Senate vote and be signed by the president.
You may be wondering why this increase in trailer length is needed and what the benefits are. Let’s take a look at this question.
Infrastructure is a problem
The nation’s highways and bridges are deteriorating. Impassable roads and bridges lead to increased costs, service delays and equipment damage. Manufacturers rely on a vast supply chain and our nation’s interconnected network of roads, airports, inland waterways and ports to support and supply their operations. “Just in time” and lean manufacturing philosophies in recent years have benefited manufacturers, consumers and the overall economy. To be efficient they must have the right material, at the right time, at the right place and in the exact amount needed in the production cycle.
While companies can plan for some unexpected events that impact delivery times, it cannot plan for delays due to traffic congestion. One late delivery can be costly. It delays production, tying up capital, reducing man-hours (workers sent home when production stops), impacting production quality and delaying delivery of product. This result hurts competitiveness due to a missed shipment.
The infrastructure is adequate for today but it is not well-positioned for future growth. Traffic congestion is a concern since not having enough lanes on the highway can make all the difference in whether deliveries to a given area are on time.
According to an American Trucking Research Institute (ATRI) study, 89 percent of congestion is on 12 percent of highway miles.
Meeting Increased Demand without Increasing Demand for Drivers
Freight demand is expected to double by 2035 from 2010 levels. The twin 33-foot configuration will increase capacity by about 18% absorbing a lot of the anticipated freight growth and alleviating the shortage of truck drivers.
The twin-33 configuration has many benefits beyond increased capacity. It is estimated to annually:
It’s been tested
Not only that but academic studies show that 33-foot-long trailers’ extended wheelbases make them more stable than twin 28s when being pulled by a truck-tractor in straight lines and when cornering.
FedEx Ground has been running twin 33-footers in Florida since 2010 and FedEx Freight is testing them in North Dakota.
Wisconsin completed a comprehensive truck size and weight study in 2009 that looked at the economic gains versus the potential risks and infrastructure damage. The study found net benefits in safety, productivity and pavement conditions.
The Coalition for Efficient and Responsible Trucking says that research shows that stopping distances are the same with 28-foot and 33-foot trailers, and the longer trucks are more stable.
So you can see that there are many favorable reasons to update to the twin 33-foot configuration. These include capacity, environment, economy and safety to name a few. Stay tuned to see if this bill is approved or if the twin-33s are blocked yet again.