June 24, 2018
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Truck weight compromise

If ocean waves can turn solid rock into grains of sand, maybe persistent requests can get the federal government to lift its truck weight restriction on I-95 in Maine. Or maybe if the request is made in a slightly different way, with conditions, the feds will listen.

Sen. Susan Collins has hit upon a fresh approach to the truck weight issue, and is asking her colleagues to support a one-year pilot project that would exempt Maine’s interstate highways from the law.

For far too long, trucks that weigh between 80,000 and 100,000 pounds are forced to leave the interstate north of Augusta and travel local highways, and even through downtown Bangor, for destination points east and north. The rule works just fine in protecting the hefty federal investment in the interstate highway system — less damage to the road surface. But it works far less well for Maine’s secondary and tertiary roads. Those heavy trucks trying to negotiate stop signs and right-angle turns is clearly a safety threat to pedestrians and drivers of passenger vehicles.

The one-year pilot program, proposed by Sen. Collins, could be used to generate some facts in the debate between Maine and federal officials. With a good study, some important questions could be answered, such as: How much damage is being done to I-95 by the big rigs? How does their absence from local roads affect the accident rates on those roads? And less quantifiable, but also important, do businesses benefit from having goods move to and from markets more quickly by using the interstate highway system?

The potential threat to the road surface of I-95 from bearing the weight of 100,000-pound trucks should not be dismissed as inconsequential. But other parts of the system, in Maine south of Augusta and in other states, do allow those trucks. If damage is significant from the heavy trucks using the highway north of Augusta, it will become apparent during the one-year pilot program. If there is no significant damage, that, too is vital information.

Twenty years from now, more freight may be moved by ship or railroad, and federal and state policy should reflect these modes as priorities. But for now, trucks are the primary means by which goods are carried to, from and through Maine, and I-95 is the conduit designed for them, not the two-lane country roads that radiate from Bangor.

Sen. Collins and others should continue to work to convince federal officials that safety and efficiency support this change.

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