Those long, long, long, long trucks

Despite the lively political discussions over the administration's proposal to raise the gasoline tax, little attention is being given to one of the most far-reaching aspects of the plan: opening up the nation's interstate highway system to bigger and bigger trucks. In fact, some critics of the overlooked trucking proposal in the infrastructure-repair plan, such as the American Automobile Association (AAA), argue that allowing larger rigs on the nation's roadways will only aggravate the repair problems of the highway system - and thus work against meaningful renovation.

Congress should take a careful look at such arguments. Given the fact that the driving public has been turning to smaller cars, it seems questionable to lift restrictions on the size of trucks - limitations that were imposed in the first place partly because of safety considerations.

Among other things, the administration plan would allow twin-trailer trucks to run in all states. They are now prohibited in some 15 states, including much of the Northeast. The allowable width of trucks would be upped - from 96 to 102 inches. Although trailers would have to meet certain minimum lengths, there would be no length restrictions on the overall configuration of truck convoys. Would that mean that truck trains would soon be thundering down the nation's highways - trailers hooked on trailers?

Trucking fulfills a vital role in the nation's transportation system. Lawmakers, however, must strike a fair balance between the needs of truckers - and the safety of motorists.

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