The trucking industry, in an effort to save billions of dollars, will bypass a major showdown in Congress next year over longer and heavier trucks and will attempt to shift the battle to the states, the industry's spokesman said.

Thomas Donohue, president of the American Trucking Associations, said in an interview that he will not ask Congress next year to allow double- and triple-trailer combinations nationwide. Instead, he said he will ask Congress to allow the states to establish special-permit programs that would let trucks exceed federal weight and length restrictions over specific routes, with safety restrictions and extra fees to pay for any excess road and bridge wear.The stakes are huge, and the industry's need for cost-cutting has never been greater. With fuel prices rising and a soft economy slowing growth, truckers say they need the estimated $4 billion in savings from a nationwide network of big-truck routes. Truckers have an annual revenue of $239 billion and employ 7.4 million people in hauling 40 percent of U.S. freight tonnage.

But they face a reluctant public, with polls consistently recording fear of bigger trucks and two groups that are more than willing to exploit that fear: the railroad industry and a coalition of consumer and environmental groups called CRASH - Citizens for Reliable And Safe Highways.

Donohue acknowledged that he would have a difficult time persuading Congress to pre-empt states that do not want longer combination vehicles (LCVs), but would find many state legislatures willing to work with local truckers to establish special-permit programs.

"I'll get a bunch of states willing to do it before I'd get a national bill pushed down the throats of the states in this administration," Donohue said.

Railroads and CRASH have mounted a nationwide campaign against the trucking industry in preparation for next year's reauthorization of federal highway programs. The railroads say a nationwide big-truck bill would divert traffic off railroads, while CRASH argues that big trucks are unsafe.