Special interests are lobbying for federal legislation that would put heavier semi-trucks onto local roads. A new report being delivered to the U.S. Congress shows that more than 72,000 bridges nationwide cannot safely handle the proposed heavier truck weights. Replacing these bridges would cost taxpayers more than $60 billion.

The report was co-authored by county officials responsible for maintaining their local bridges: Rick Bailey, Johnson County Commissioner (TX); Josh Harvill, Chambers County Engineer (AL); Brian Keierleber, Buchanan County Engineer (IA); Thomas Klasner, Jersey County Engineer (IL). The study was conducted in coordination with the national Coalition Against Bigger Trucks.

The study authors are traveling to Washington to deliver the report, The Impacts of Heavier Trucks on Local Bridges, March 2023, during meetings with Members of Congress on March 29.

H.R. 471, a bill that would raise semi-truck weights on interstates and National Highway System roads by five and a half tons, from 80,000 to 91,000 pounds, was introduced earlier this year.

The study evaluated more than 474,000 bridges off the National Highway System and found roughly 15% could not handle the proposed heavier trucks.

“No truck trip starts and stops on the interstate,” Harvill said. “Trucks travel on our local roads every day, and proposals to raise weights would compromise additional bridges at a cost of millions to our local taxpayers.”

“Engineers know that heavier trucks break bridges and bust budgets,” Klasner said. “The numbers we found in this study are eye-popping. The costs to local governments would be astronomical, and Members of Congress must have this information to make informed decisions.”

Key Findings:

• The study identified 72,240 local bridges nationwide that do not have sufficient weight ratings to safely accommodate 91,000 pound trucks. The cost of replacing these bridges would be $60.8 billion.

• Nearly 90% of bridges rated in poor condition are local bridges, off the National Highway System (National Bridge Inventory).

• There are 33,702 local bridges that are more than 90 years old, built when the Model T was still on our roads.

Top 10 States With Most At-Risk Bridges
South Carolina3,774

Top 10 States by Cost of Replacing At-Risk Bridges
California$6.9 billion
Oregon$3.4 billion
Louisiana$2.7 billion
Kansas$2.3 billion
Georgia$2.2 billion
Ohio$2.1 billion
Washington$2.1 billion
South Carolina$2 billion
Massachusetts$1.9 billion
Missouri$1.6 billion

“When a bridge is not rated to handle a heavier truck, it has to be posted, closed and ultimately replaced,” said Keierleber. “To those that suggest posting a bridge is sufficient, I’m here to tell you it is not. It is simply not enforceable and trucks routinely violate it. The only time posting works is when I am standing on the bridge. These are structures that would immediately be top priority replacements. But few local governments have that kind of money. This would be a disaster.”

The study utilized inspection data from the National Bridge Inventory to compare the rated carrying capacity with the proposed higher weights. If the weight exceeded the carrying capacity, the bridge was deemed at risk, requiring immediate action to avoid further damage or collapse. The study authors agreed replacement was the only solution.

“I’m not sure how we would come up with the funds to replace these bridges if these weight increases passed,” said County Commissioner Rick Bailey. “The only options would be significant tax increases or painful cuts to essential services. The financial consequences that counties face would be felt for years.”

Klasner, Bailey and Keierleber will be joining like-minded local officials and law enforcement leaders from other states in making the trip to Washington at the invitation of the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks (CABT), a nonprofit grassroots organization opposed to legislation that would make trucks longer or heavier.