Mobile-Production Providers Weigh Ups, Downs of Higher Highway Weight Limits

In the mobile-production industry, weights and measures are king. Federal weight limits on interstate highways not only limit the amount of gear that companies can put into a given production unit but dictate the number of trucks required to support the sports industry’s largest shows. Last week, a ripple of change came to Capitol Hill. More than four dozen organizations took part in meetings to boost support for a bill that would allow states to increase the federal weight limit on interstate highways, from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds. Increasing the 80,000-lb. restriction, which was put in place in 1992, would be a game changer for the mobile-production industry — assuming that individual states agree to implement the increased federal limits.

“This would be a major plus,” says Game Creek Video President Pat Sullivan. “The advent of B units came partially as a result of the need on the part of our clients to have more resources in the production units, which added equipment and cable weight. The cost and complexity of overweight permits became untenable, especially because some overweight permits prohibit operation on Sundays [which are major game days in sports].

“Now, some of our clients do not want the expense, or the parking issues, that B units create,” he continues, “so we have built three production units that can stand alone. Those units consistently weigh in at just under 80,000 lbs., the legal weight limit.”

At the same time, Sullivan explains, new emissions standards have added 1,200-1,500 pounds to the weight of the tractor required to tow the production units. In addition, braking standards soon to be implemented will add significantly to the weight of the tractors, making an increase in federal weight limits almost necessary.

However, just because the federal government increases weight-limit allowances on interstate highways does not mean that individual states will follow suit for the highways within their jurisdiction.

“Many states march to different drummers,” Sullivan says. “An increase of the federal limit may not be implemented by individual states.”

In fact, adds Mira Mobile General Manager Frank Taylor, individual states frequently refuse to execute rule changes that affect the federal highway system.

“Since much of our work is done off the interstate system,” he points out, “any change to gross-weight limits there may not have a significant effect if a great number of states don’t adopt those changes.”

The Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA), introduced to Congress by the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, would gives each state the option to raise its interstate weight limit for trucks equipped with an additional axle to a maximum of 97,000 pounds. The weight limit increase would not only help the remote industry reduce its dependence on B units, explains NEP Broadcasting CTO George Hoover, but would also reduce fuel use and the overall number of trucks on the road.

Lyon Video President Bob Lyon agrees: “The idea of running a B-unit along to so many jobs, just to carry the excess weight, does create environmental and fuel-efficiency issues. Lyon Video would be behind the proposal. Too often, because of all of the extra cable and gear we carry around, we drive down the road close to the current 80,000-lb. limit. I have read that the current proposal really targets freight haulers, but our industry would also benefit by such relief.”

However, not all good news comes in larger weight-limit packages.

“It is our understanding that a bill to do this would also include the requirement to add an additional axle to the trailer,” Mira Mobile’s Taylor says. “The issue with that is, you would have to give up valuable storage space because it would most likely eliminate an existing belly bay. Losing a belly bay to gain gross weight isn’t a good trade-off.”

All in all, mobile-production–truck providers agree that the SETA bill has some upsides for the industry but, without universal adoption by the majority of states, will have little opportunity to be effective.