Caltrans to Seek Rules for Trucks on Freeways

Times Staff Writer

California Transportation Director Robert K. Best announced Friday that he will meet next month with top trucking and shipping industry officials to discuss the possibility of restricting large trucks on freeways during peak rush hours.

Announcement of the meeting came with release of a study commissioned by the state Department of Transportation showing that while large trucks account for only 2.5% to 5.5% of all traffic, they account for 20% of the delays caused by accidents, mechanical breakdowns, spills and other problems.

Although the report found that large trucks cause a disproportionate share of traffic congestion, authors of the $300,000 study did not agree with Gov. George Deukmejian and other Administration officials that restricting commercial truck traffic on freeways during peak hours is a potentially good solution to the freeway congestion problem.

Deukmejian first raised placing restrictions on big rigs during his State of the State address earlier this month. The governor so far has not made any recommendations.


The report--ordered by the Legislature and prepared for Caltrans by Cambridge Systematics Inc., a private consulting firm--assessed the causes of gridlock and congestion on urban freeways and was called the first of its kind.

Too Many Cars

It concluded that passenger cars--more precisely, too many passenger cars--not big trucks, are the primary cause of traffic congestion.

The problem with trucks, the report said, was not that their number was excessive but that their mishaps and breakdowns were more serious and took longer to clear up. “The volume of large trucks on the freeways does not have an inordinate impact on peak-period congestion,” it said, “but truck-involved incidents and accidents do have a significant effect.”

If restrictions were placed on trucks during peak hours, the report said, “Average freeway speeds would increase slightly, but a ban would not provide significant relief from peak-hour congestion.”

In Los Angeles, the study said that restrictions on trucks would increase average freeway speeds during peak periods from 40 m.p.h. to 42 m.p.h.

However, the report said business would have to pay a huge economic cost if night and off-peak-hour deliveries were required.

The report said that restrictions on big trucks would affect 17,000 businesses in Los Angeles at an estimated annual cost of $1.5 billion. In San Francisco, 8,000 businesses would be affected at a cost of $710 million a year, according to the study.

The study defined big trucks as those with at least three axles and weighing 26,000 pounds or more. Included in the classification were those that pull trailers, 18-wheelers, concrete mixers, garbage haulers, beverage and fuel trucks. Vans, light delivery trucks, pickups and mail vehicles were not considered large trucks.

Courts’ Role

The report, noting that the federal government has broader regulatory authority over the trucking industry than the state, warned that courts “have consistently struck down state laws that have attempted to impose truck bans based on general concerns about congestion and safety.”

As a first step toward solving the problem of truck-caused congestion, the report recommended that the state expand and improve its traffic management programs in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. It called for the state to strengthen its efforts to prevent accidents and equipment breakdowns through its licensing, equipment maintenance and safety inspection programs.

Best said he will meet with trucking industry officials Feb. 16.

“We want to know to what degree shippers and receivers dependent on truck deliveries can realistically be expected to shift receiving and shipping times to non-peak travel hours,” he said.