Trucks delivering consumer goods must observe the applicable size and weight requirements and seek permits for oversize loads. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, significant changes accelerated in commerce adding pressure for the freight community to deliver goods directly to consumers in an environment of uncertainty where consumers were buying in bulk, exhausting supplies of common and necessary goods. On top of consumer disruptions to the freight system, truckers urgently had to make deliveries of much-needed pandemic-related supplies. Several actions were needed to facilitate the continuity of freight flows. For example, the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) relaxed hours of service rules, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) temporarily allowed commercial sales of food and beverage at safety rest areas on Interstates, and states increased allowable weights for vital health supplies, food deliveries, and other emergency commodities.
While these provisional changes provided temporary relief, numerous jurisdictional and definitional inconsistencies dampened the desired outcomes. These issues include, but are not limited to, consistency with neighboring states or within states who have multiple entities as infrastructure owners and operators; federal oversight on Interstates versus state and local control over non-Interstate roadways; and definitional issues such as what constitutes an emergency, what are emergency goods, and when to implement special permits during emergencies and for what period of time. These issues impact state departments of transportation (DOT) executives, practitioners, private freight providers, manufacturers, and other stakeholders in ensuring critical deliveries can be made during emergencies. Research is needed so that when future emergencies occur, infrastructure owners and operators can respond proactively and effectively.
The objectives of the research are to:
Develop consistent definition of emergencies, emergency commodities (classification/type), and other concepts;
Identify successful practices, procedures, and processes for increasing weight limits during emergencies, including coordination and harmonization with neighboring jurisdictions;
Develop a decision framework that considers different emergency scenarios that are linked with successful practices, procedures, and processes; and
Highlight successful communication practices and training opportunities to conduct before emergencies occur.