Alaska is the only state or province in North America that doesn’t have an upper limit on how much general freight trucks can weigh on the highways. The only factors that limit weight are the maximum load permissible per tire and axle and the total weight that can cross the bridges. There is no maximum total weight on the asphalt highway surface and the weight on bridges is governed by the “Alaska Bridge Law” which permits more and more weight if you add more axles spread over a longer truck length. Under the Bridge Law, it’s possible for a truck and trailer combination to weigh 200,000 lbs and even that could be exceeded given the right axle configuration. That is a tremendous amount of weight in one truck combination. These weights can be hauled by any freight carrier at any time under any conditions with no restrictions. The massive loads you occasionally do see on the road that are oversize or overweight require a special permit from the DOT Weights and Measures and come with restrictions that limit routing, speed, and pilot cars. These permits are designed to protect the infrastructure and to warn other traffic of a potentially dangerous situation.

Alaska has been seeing heavier and heavier truck loads in recent years because of a couple reasons. Trucks now have higher horsepower ratings, some over 600 HP, which permit them to pull heavy loads and equipment manufacturers are able to build trailers with additional axles designed to carry heavier cargoes. Freight carriers generally get paid by the cargo weight they can deliver so they strive to deliver as much cargo per trip as possible.

There is a limit to how much weight a truck should be allowed to transport in Alaska. More weight means more damage to the roads and bridges and the state revenue received from trucks is limited to vehicle licensing fees and a state fuel tax. Basically the state makes about as much revenue from a standard 80,000 lb truck as it does off a 150-200,000 lb truck, yet the damage and maintenance costs caused by the heavier trucks are much greater. The other more important issue is safety. Heavier, longer trucks are involved in more accidents, this being of national record, and in those accidents the higher weight mass of those trucks can cause a lot of damage. It’s also a lot harder for traffic to pass long double trucks, they generally travel slower than other vehicles, and in the winter the snow blizzard caused by them is dangerous.

The proposed Senate Bill 218 establishes the maximum gross weight without a permit at 140,000 lbs. That’s a realistic compromise and most of the existing long double traffic on the road would comply. If you notice, the vast majority of the double trucks on the Parks and Richardson Highway are container and flatbed freight that has been loaded at the ocean docks originating from outside Alaska. That freight was delivered to the Seattle & Tacoma docks in accordance with Washington State weight standards and those loads moving as doubles in Alaska would rarely if ever exceed the 140,000 weight limit. This bill would not affect most freight rates and therefore not affect the prices paid by Alaskans for goods. There is also a point of diminishing returns for the trucking companies. Equipment costs more, insurance rates are higher, maintenance costs are higher, fuel costs are higher, and driver retention is more difficult. These costs can’t be absorbed in a freight rate at some point. The heavy loads that exceed that weight are generally for industrial use and any increase in freight cost can be borne by the large corporations as an incidental expense.

Alaskans deserve safe modern highways for our travel. We as citizens rely on these roads to travel for work and everyday use. The State of Alaska pays for the highway maintenance and in part for new construction. We all pay fuel taxes to pay for these roads but it’s documented that the trucking industry causes more maintenance costs and wear and tear then it pays for. This is in part accepted as government’s way to keep overall commerce costs reduced. But, there is a limit. If heavy trucks are causing excessive infrastructure costs and higher dangers on the roadway then they should pay more. It’s not an unreasonable demand and Senate Bill 218 begins to address that need.

[This article was written by Bill Ward of Delta Junction, AK, and reproduced with his permission. Mr. Ward has over 50 years of experience operating large commercial trucks.]