Thanks to a new state law, weight limits for trucks on Indiana roads will increase July 1 from 80,000 pounds to 120,000 pounds with the appropriate permits and equipment. Introduced Jan. 7, the bill increasing weight limits passed the state legislature and was signed into law April 29 by Gov. Eric Holcomb. This law should help recyclers in the state haul more recycled metals and paper.
Sponsored by state Rep. Jim Pressel, chair of the state House Roads and Transportation Committee, the bill expands the category of freight that can be considered an overweight divisible load, and authorizes transportation for commodities up to 120,000 pounds including recycled steel.
Since 2014, Indiana has had a permit for trucks to carry additional weight, but it was only available to three industries: steel, agricultural products, and paper. Within the steel industry, the permit was restricted to companies hauling new steel production. For nearly four years, ISRI’s Indiana chapter worked with state lawmakers to be included among the industries allowed to apply for the permit. “We wanted to change the language to include ‘scrap,’ which ultimately happened,” says Jerry Andrews, OmniSource Southwest Division Manager and member of ISRI’s Indiana Chapter.
The long legislative process involved studies examining the effect of the increased weight on roads and bridges, and discussions among trucking associations, railroads, cities, and law enforcement agencies. Recyclers got what they wanted, and the permit is available to all industries.
While concerns that overweight trucks could lead to more accidents and road damage were raised during the legislative discussions, statistics show a strong safety record for overweight trucks. “In 2019, there were around 113,000 single-trip permits, equivalent to about 14 million miles,” Pressel told The Trucker. Overweight, oversized trucks accounted for 145 property damage reports, zero fatalities and three injuries, he said.
The Indiana Department of Transportation studied whether existing infrastructure, bridges, and roads could handle additional weight. One measurement used as a benchmark was the American Association of State Highway Officials’ equivalent single axle load (ESAL), where the reference axle load is an 18,000-pound single axle with dual tires. “We found that we could haul 120,000 pounds with little modification to trailers to get the ESAL correct for the roads,” Andrews says. “OmiSource felt we could do this at a minimum cost to our existing fleet and going forward when purchasing new equipment.” The new law also provides incentives for carriers to invest in additional axles and equipment for even weight distribution.
OmniSource plans to take the necessary safety steps for its fleet, and encourages other Indiana recyclers to do the same. “Our goal is to do this right,” Andrews says. “We’re putting a third axle on our trailers and [fitting] heavy-duty brakes. We’re working with our trailer manufacturer to accomplish this, and equip our fleet with the proper safety and axles.” Allowing trucks to carry more material could decrease the number of trucks on highways by half, he adds. “We won’t have to source as many trucks as we do today.”
Indiana recyclers could haul more recycled steel and save money under the law. “This law will allow us to haul quite a bit more; probably, on average, about 38.4 tons in one load,” Andrews says. Given the problems the industry is already facing with rail lines including monopoly rates, unreliable service, lack of available cars to ship out, and the transportation and shipping crises significantly disrupting supply chains, the new rules benefit recyclers’ bottom lines. “Looking at the mileage, we’re hauling to mills that are maybe 40-60 miles from the scrap locations,” Andrews explains. “When you look at the cost of the rail compared to the truck, the rail was higher per ton on shipping than it would be on a truck.”
Expanding access to the permit puts recyclers on equal footing with all other industries. “We wanted to have clear language that addresses scrap,” Andrews says. “The law puts [recyclables] on an equal playing field with the other commodities.”