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Members of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity traveled to Capitol Hill in mid-April to talk with congressional leaders and regulators about reforms that could make the national transportation system more efficient.

Matt Harris, director of trade for the Washington State Potato Commission, said, "The whole thought is to use the system as it exists." For this reason, he said, the coalition supports an increase of the national truck weight limit to 97,000 pounds from 80,000 pounds. The weight increase would necessitate that trucks operate with three sets of axles.

The change is part of HR 1799, sponsored by U.S. Rep Michael Michaud (D- ME), and introduced March 19 as the Safe & Efficient Transportation Act. Co- sponsors to the legislation are currently being sought.

Mr. Harris put the issue into perspective by talking about Washington potato producers.

"We are not talking about a longer truck," he said. A 53-foot truck can currently be loaded with 850 cartons of potatoes. "The trucks aren't full, but the overall gross weight is hit," he said. While heavier loads can be moved intrastate, Mr. Harris went on to say that Washington potato producers would not be able to move heavier loads into California, for example, since the 80,000-pound limit applies there. Continuing the discussion, he said that the number of truck movements necessarily increases to accommodate overall shipment volumes because of the difference in maximum truck weight limits between the two states.

"It's important for us to look at how to make the system efficient," Mr. Harris said. The proposed legislation, he noted, would increase transportation efficiencies by as much as 19 percent. Data indicate that three sets of axles help distribute weight more evenly on trucks. Under these conditions, Mr. Harris said, there is less wear-and-tear on roadways, and maintenance costs are reduced as a result.

The legislation also addresses carbon footprint issues. "It reduces fuel needed to move cargo and reduces greenhouse emissions," he noted.

The bill has been written to allow states to opt in to the program. The legislation would assess an annual user fee of $850 for heavyweight transport, and the user fees would be specifically earmarked to help with infrastructure repair of the nation's bridges. Participating states would then be eligible to receive a share of the fund.

Heavyweight transport is not new. "In the Pacific Northwest, we're well above the 80,000 pound limit," Mr. Harris told The Produce News. He went on to say that trucks with three sets of axles can safely move as much as 105,000 pounds.

Although Washington's rail system continues to move increasing volumes of product, Mr. Harris said that trucking provides the best just-in-time service for receivers.

Although discussion about the legislation is in its infancy, Mr. Harris said, "I felt we had a very positive reception. Like the farm bill, there will be a lot of input to make sure it will be the best bill."