Defense Highways

Regardless of personal politics, the United States of America boasts a government which serves its people like none other. One such service provided is an incredibly complex, expensive and comprehensive interstate highway system. What the people of this great nation forget is that this road network is on loan. It’s open for public use for a limited time, which has an incredible impact on the carrier industry. This week’s article will look at the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (NSIDH) and the peculiarities it bestows upon Illinois truck law.

There are many road networks going by even more names out there. There are honorary highways and historic highways. Texas has Farm Road and Ranch Roads. Illinois has Class I, II and III highways along with the sub-varieties of designated and non-designated highways. The federal government manages the National Network, which is not to be confused with the NSIDH.

The NSIDH was not built primarily for civilian use, but for the military. Long before World War II, Nazi Germany established a system of highways to move their military across the nation in the event war came to their soil. It did, they lost, but General Eisenhower learned a valuable lesson from the enemy. The biggest public works project in the history of this nation came under his leadership after being elected President post-war.

The truth is the federal government can shut down or severely restrict the amount of civilian traffic on the interstate system if a conflict came to the homeland. The purpose of the highways are to move our military machine across the nation efficiently.

Because the NSIDH is operated and regulated by the federal government, a uniform system of rules applies nationwide. States are given autonomy to govern the interstate highways within their borders, but there are guidelines and limitations to this authority.

As regulatory agencies like the United States Department of Transportation debate and create rules and federal statutes for the NSIDH, the final product is applied to the road system. However, the rules do not apply to road systems not under federal oversight.

In recent years, there has been spirited debate on increasing the length of semi-trailers, double-bottoms and the weight of certain combinations. If these new maximums were to become federal law, they would apply only to interstates in Illinois. Illinois would be free to adopt identical regulations for the rest of the highways in the state, but would not be required to do so.

Changes such as these were seen in the MAP-21 bill, more recently the FAST Act and certainly there will be more to come. The issue which arises is an inversion philosophy. What happens when states want to create laws for trucks operating on their interstates, but the federal statutes do not allow it?

For instance, Illinois has a “Special Hauling Vehicle” (SHV) status for certain 5-axle semi-tractor trailer combinations (625 ILCS 5/15-111-A-10). This law provides higher than normal weights than allowed by the mandated federal bridge formula for the NSIDH. When Illinois created this law in the mid-1980’s, the federal government allowed Illinois to do this, but it could not be a permanent exception on their road.

Hence, the provision allowing “shorty dumps”, or “bombers”, to be 72,000 pounds gross on all highways in Illinois, expires every 10 years. It expired in 1994, 2004, 2014 and now 2024. Each decade legislation is introduced and passed to keep this temporary exception, well, permanent.

The same benefit is not extended to other SHV vehicles though. Hogstaubers (sewer cleaning and jetting vacuum trucks, 15-111-A-8), 3-axle cement mixers (15-111-A-7.5) and 4-axle concrete mixers with split axles (15-111-A-9) do not get the same treatment on the NSIDH as their 5-axle semi cousins.

In fact, these vehicles lose their SHV status when operating on the NSIDH. Instead of exercising protections for extra weight while operating on all other Illinois roads, they only receive legal weights when on the NSIDH!

There are also configurations which have weight exceptions in Illinois that are not required to be registered as SHVs. However, they do not receive the higher weights on the NSIDH either. These include rendering trucks (15-111-A-6) and 3-axle garbage compactors/roll-off trucks (15-111-A-7).

General Eisenhower probably didn’t conceptualize the intricacies of future Illinois weights law when the NSIDH was born, but it is what it is until Uncle Sam shuts it down, of course.

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