Nearly 23 years ago, I barely survived a truck crash that left me permanently disfigured. My recovery has been long and painful and seemingly endless, with future surgeries still planned to maintain my progress and function. As a result of my experience, and finding out that I am but one of the tens of thousands of yearly survivors seriously injured in truck crashes, I became a truck-safety advocate to make improvements and reduce the unacceptably high, yearly toll of truck-crash-related deaths and injuries.
I was appalled, while reading about a truck convoy that rolled through downtown Duluth in protest of weight restrictions on interstate highways, to learn that U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack and Sen. Amy Klobuchar support the push by the Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers of Minnesota for a special-interest exemption from the federal 80,000-pound truck weight limit on interstate roads. In addition to being a bad precedent, it is downright irresponsible for members of Congress to put the request of one industry before the safety of the general public.
Bigger trucks are more deadly, more destructive to road and bridge infrastructure, and more costly to taxpayers, who will be forced to pay the bill for the damage. When Congress granted Maine and Vermont special pilot projects to exceed federal weight limits, the results were disastrous. According to the Vermont Pilot Program Final Report, the bigger trucks proved to be:
More dangerous ...
• "On Vermont's non-Interstate highways, where significant safety gains were expected with the shift of trucks to the Interstates, the number of crashes increased by 24 percent."
• "Injury-related truck crashes on Vermont's non-Interstate highways, increased by 28 percent."
• "The total number of truck crashes on Vermont's Interstate highways increased by 10 percent."
... and more damaging and costly, even with the addition of a sixth axle:
• "The pilot loading results in a 59 percent increase in damage due to Class 10 trucks."
•"A typical [99,000-pound, six-axle] pilot vehicle requires pavement expenditures of 34.5 cents per mile of travel on the Interstate system and about 53.6 cents per mile of travel off the Interstate system -- about 63% more per vehicle mile and about 32% more per ton-mile than a fully loaded 5-axle vehicle."
Likewise, during the Maine pilot program, results of a side-by-side analysis of the state's interstate bridges revealed that if "one assumes that greater than a ten percent 'overstress' is unacceptable, then these results show that every 100,000 lbs. truck is a problem" and that "the results should cause prudent bridge engineers some concern."
Given the results of the pilot programs in Maine and Vermont, it is clear that Minnesotans should not allow these overweight trucks on our roads. We cannot afford the loss of lives and injuries and the increased damage that would incur. Nor can we afford to ignore the lessons learned from the Interstate 35W bridge collapse; overloaded bridges do collapse, and we need to respect the limitations of their design capacity and structural inspection designation if we hope to avoid another tragic outcome.
Klobuchar and Cravaak might choose to disregard the consequences of Maine and Vermont's pilot programs, but their constituents should not. I urge my fellow Minnesotans to contact them and let them know that overweight trucks are not good for Minnesota.
Nancy Meuleners, of Bloomington, is a customer service representative.