Higher truck weight advocates score a victory

Maine’s bid to allow 100,000-lb. trucks on its federal Interstate highways scored a victory Tuesday in Washington, but faces more challenges as it works its way through Congress, according to a report in the Bangor Daily News

Maine’s bid to allow 100,000-lb. trucks on its federal Interstate highways scored a victory Tuesday in Washington, but faces more challenges as it works its way through Congress, according to a report in the Bangor Daily News.

A provision was inserted into a 2012 transportation funding bill to permanently allow the trucks by Republican Sen. Susan Collins, the ranking member of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, according to a press release from her office.

The funding bill faces votes by the full Senate Appropriations Committee today and then the full Senate. Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud said he was working a similar provision to be introduced into the House version of the budget bill, which is necessary for the weight increase to become law.

The truck weight measure has 54 bipartisan sponsors, Michaud said in a press release.

“This is a positive step forward for an issue that Maine’s delegation has been pushing to address for years,” said Michaud in the release. “I’m hopeful the bill it’s attached to advances quickly and congressional leaders don’t oppose its inclusion. I’ll do whatever I can to support this moving forward.”

Maine’s 80,000-lb. truck weight limit puts the state at a disadvantage on many fronts, Collins asserts. Restrictions in Maine and Vermont put those states at a disadvantage compared to New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York and neighboring Canadian provinces where 100,000-lb. trucks are allowed, she says.

“Public safety, our economy, energy independence and the environment have always been among my top priorities in the Senate,” said Collins in a press release. “My provision to permanently change federal law would advance all of those goals by allowing the heaviest trucks to travel on our federal Interstates in Maine rather than being forced to use secondary roads and downtown streets.”

Higher truck weights have been supported by Maine’s congressional delegation for years. Heavier trucks weighing a total of 100,000 lbs. including freight were allowed on Maine’s highways during a one-year pilot project that ended in December 2010. Since then, the weight limit on highways such as I-95, I-295 and I-395 has been back down to 80,000 lbs., forcing heavier trucks onto secondary state roads and, in some cases, through downtowns.

Crashes involving trucks decreased by 72% during the pilot program, compared the average number of crashes over the previous five years, Collins said.

The language inserted into the transportation spending bill by Collins also would allow a similar permanent change to truck weight limits in Vermont. At issue in Maine are 260 mi. of Interstate highways which are not part of the Maine Turnpike.

Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe has also been working on the truck weight issue through a measure called the Commercial Truck Safety Act
, which she introduced in July. The act would set truck weight limits at 100,000 lbs. across the country through a three-year pilot program.

“The current treatment of truck weights on Interstate highways is a glaring example of a bureaucratic regulation creating both safety hazards on secondary roads and tangible barriers to job growth at a time when the nation’s unemployment rate is stuck above 9% and Maine’s mill towns are struggling to thrive,” said Snowe in a press release. “As I have said before, it is critical our Congressional delegation approach this issue from every angle to achieve our ultimate goal: getting trucks back on the Interstate in Maine.”

The heavier truck weight limits have broad support in Maine including trucking interests and law enforcement, but are opposed by safety groups who say 100,000-lb. trucks should not be allowed anywhere because of dangers associated with the greater weight.

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