Congress

Senate registers opposition to longer semi-trailers

Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker stood with Vicksburg, Miss., Police Chief Walter Armstrong beside a truck hooked to two 33-foot semitrailers outside the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 21, 2015. Wicker and a bipartisan coalition are aiming to block legislation that would extend to a maximum of 91 feet the length of trucks on all the nation's roads.
Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker stood with Vicksburg, Miss., Police Chief Walter Armstrong beside a truck hooked to two 33-foot semitrailers outside the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 21, 2015. Wicker and a bipartisan coalition are aiming to block legislation that would extend to a maximum of 91 feet the length of trucks on all the nation's roads. McClatchy

The Senate delivered a bipartisan blow Tuesday to major trucking firms that back legislation to force 38 states to allow 91-foot, twin-trailer trucks on their roads and highways.

Lawmakers voted 56-31 to signal opposition to the measure, which is still alive in an omnibus Senate spending bill.

The House already has passed a bill to increase from 28 feet to 33 feet the maximum length of semi-trailers, stretching the current top truck length by 10 feet.

But a group led by Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California complained it was added to an appropriations bill without a hearing and that it amounted to a federal mandate on most of the country, when only 12 states currently support it.

Tuesday’s maneuver was not the death knell for the bill but rather a way to show opposition. The Senate voted to instruct its representatives on a House-Senate conference committee considering highway legislation to oppose the measure, although the trucking provision is not in the highway bill.

“I am hopeful that those who are writing the omnibus appropriations bill . . . have taken note of the Senate’s position,” Wicker said.

Wicker, Feinstein and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., recently decried the proposal, warning it would lead to more traffic fatalities and stressing that the U.S. Transportation Department opposes longer trucks.

The American people don’t want to contend with these long double trailers on their roads.

Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker before Tuesday’s vote

Major trucking interests, led by FedEx and the United Parcel Service, have been pushing the legislation, with backing from big shippers such as Amazon.com. They argue that Congress has gone 30 years since it last improved freight trucking efficiencies and that allowing bigger semis would reduce the 6.6 million truck trips clogging highways each year.

Current laws constrain use of the bigger trucks, mainly to wide-open Western states. The longer tandem trucks are allowed in states such as Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming, but also in Florida. States that currently ban them include New York, California, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Washington.

Greg Gordon: 202-383-0005, @greggordon2

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