Kentucky Cargo Transportation

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Kentucky Cargo Transportation
Freight Planning

KYTC’s mission is to provide a safe, efficient, environmentally sound, and fiscally responsible transportation system that delivers economic opportunity and enhances the quality of life in Kentucky.  KYTC’s goal for freight transportation is to provide a safe, reliable, efficient, and effective transportation system for the movement of passengers and freight within the commonwealth as well as connect Kentucky to domestic and international markets.  KYTC recognizes that an effective multimodal freight system will help improve public safety, alleviate highway congestion, and contribute to economic development.

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Kentucky's export economy is very reliant upon its transportation infrastructure of roads, rail lines, waterborne barges, and airports. In 2016, Kentucky's exports were valued at $29.2 billion (a 5.8% increase over Kentucky's export value of $27.6 billion in 2015). Kentucky's largest trade partner was Canada, which accounted for 25.6% of Kentucky's exports in 2016 ($7.47 billion).

Kentucky is contiguous to seven states (West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio), and is within a 600 mile driving radius to approximately 53% of the U.S. population. The state can be accessed by 10 interstate highways, several U.S. highways, and 9 state parkways, all of which are essentially open to commercial vehicular traffic.

Commercial Truck Industry

The commercial trucking industry is highly fragmented within Kentucky, and consists of large commercial fleet operators (both national carriers headquartered in Kentucky and terminals located in Kentucky for national carriers), logistics companies, and independent owner-operators (multi-unit or single unit). Carriers are also identified as:

  • Common - transports freight for the general public for a fee, also known as For-hire carrier.
  • Contract - transports goods for only specific clients for a fee.
  • Private - transports its own freight for only their parent company.
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The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) classification system recognizes 13 types of vehicles. The classification system is separated into categories depending on whether the vehicle carries passengers or commodities. Non-passenger vehicles are further subdivided by number of axles and number of units, including both power and trailer units (the addition of a light trailer to a vehicle does not change the classification of the vehicle).

The semi, or tractor-trailer, or 18-wheeler is the standard interstate commercial freight hauler (however, the tractor-trailer accounts for only approximately 15% of all types of commercial trucks in the United States; major manufacturers include Freightliner/Western Star, Hino, International, Kenworth, Mac, Peterbilt and Volvo). The front powered truck is the tractor. The unit that is towed with the freight inside is the trailer. The standard tractor has two or three axles. The cargo trailer usually has no front axle, a tandem axle pair at the rear, each of which has dual wheels, or eight wheels on the trailer, four per axle. The combination of eight tires on the trailer and ten tires on the tractor is where the term "eighteen wheeler" comes from. The most common type of trailer is the box trailer (also known as a van trailer), and standard lengths in the United States are 28 ft., 32 ft., 34 ft., 36 ft., 40 ft., 45 ft., 48 ft., and 53 ft. No federal length limit is imposed on most truck tractor-semitrailers operation on the Interstate Highway National Network. Federal law provides that no state may impose a length limitation of less than 48 feet or the grandfathered limit for a particular State (Kentucky has a Grandfathered Semitrailer Length of 53 feet). A curtain sider trailer is similar to a box trailer except that the sides are movable curtains made of reinforced fabric coated with a waterproof coating.

An intermodal dry container is 20 feet in length, has a 45,000 pound weight capacity, exterior dimensions are 20' X 8' X 8' 6", and interior dimensions are 19' 4" X 7' 6" X 7' 10". The larger 40 foot intermodal containers are also hauled by truck tractors.

Federal commercial vehicle maximum weight standards on the Interstate Highway System are:
 - Single Axle: 20,000 pounds
 - Tandem Axle: 34,000 pounds
 - Gross Vehicle Weight: 80,000 pounds

On Feb 22, 2017, the Office of the Governor signed an amendment to KRS 189.222 to extend a 10 percent weight tolerance for vehicles engaged exclusively in the transportation of feed for livestock or poultry; permit a vehicle registered under KRS 186.050(3) transporting certain meats, agricultural crop products, or livestock to exceed the gross weight provisions by a weight tolerance of 10 percent.

How much weight in freight can the average 18-wheel tractor-trailer legally carry? As indicated above, the maximum Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) allowed on the national Interstate Highway System is 80,000 pounds or 40 tons. The GVW refers to the actual weight of the tractor, with fuel, plus the weight of the trailer, plus the weight of the freight combined. It does not matter what length the tractor is, the gross combination of the tractor and semi-trailer and the freight may not weigh more than the specified 80,000lbs without an oversize or overweight permit. The weight of the tractor depends on the style of tractor, cab, sleeper, air dam, fuel tanks, single axle or twin axle, etc. A cab can weigh 14,000 to 24,000 pounds. An empty trailer can weigh from 11,000 to 12,000 pounds. The tractor-trailer configuration then can weigh from 24,000 pounds (12 tons) to 36,000 pounds (18 tons). Thus, an actual freight load can weigh a maximum 28 tons to 22 tons.

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), which conducts an annual operator survey on the behalf of the American Trucking Association (ATA), and then publishes the Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking, indicates that on an annual basis fuel and driver wages (excluding benefits) continued to be the largest cost centers for carriers. Another problem is a continued qualified driver shortage within the industry.