Heavier truck loads will strain bridges

Allowing another 17,000 pounds will also take a toll on roads and could put motorists at risk.

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Allowing another 17,000 pounds will also take a toll on roads and could put motorists at risk.

When a bridge in Minnesota collapsed five years ago sending 13 people to their deaths and injuring 145 more, the nation was shaken.

If an eight-lane bridge over the Mississippi River could come crashing down under the weight of rush hour traffic, how safe are the bridges in America? In the days and weeks after the 2007 catastrophe, it was revealed a great many bridges were in need of significant repair. Our infrastructure was a mess.

Yet, little was actually done to improve the deteriorating bridges and roads. After a few months, the topic was out of mind and -- as is typical of Americans -- the public moved on. Today, those bridges are arguably worse than they were five years ago.

But that doesn't seem to bother supporters of a proposal being considered in Congress that would allow the weight of freight trucks to be increased from 80,000 pounds 97,000 pounds.

This plan is a bad one that will create more wear and tear on our bridges and roads while also putting motorist at risk. It is estimated trucks of this weight will need 25 percent more room to stop.

Those backing this plan -- including 200 companies hoping to reduce the cost of shipping -- argue the wear on the infrastructure and the danger are mitigated because the proposal allows only trucks with a sixth axle to reach the 97,000-pound limit.

We are skeptical. These trucks will still be hauling nearly 50 tons. That weight, regardless of how it is spread, is going to take a toll on the roads. It's also going to put some additional stress on the bridges. The extra weight will also, to some degree, make these trucks more dangerous.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. has a $70.9 billion backlog of bridgework and it contends heavier trucks could make the situation worse.

"You have the prospect of shortening the lives of our bridges," said Andrew Herrmann, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. "The trucks with their heavy loads are really what erodes our bridges faster. We're lacking the funds right now to upgrade them."

The larger loads might well help reduce the cost of shipping, at least slightly, but it won't result in significant savings to the goods purchased by consumers. The major gain would be to the profits of the manufacturers and retailers.

In the end, any extra savings would be lost as taxpayers will have to pay to fix the bridges and roads damaged by the heavier loads.

Congress should reject this proposal.

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