At the urging of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Senate subcommittee on Wednesday preliminarily approved a one-year pilot project that would exempt Maine highways from the federal truck-weight limit.
“I am delighted that my colleagues recognize that the weight limit disparity on various segments of Maine’s interstate highway system is a significant impediment to commerce, increases wear-and-tear on our secondary roads, and, most important, puts our residents needlessly at risk,” Collins said. “A pilot project keeping these heavy trucks on the interstates, which are designed to carry more weight than the rural roads, would permit an assessment of the impact of safety, commerce, and road wear and tear.”
In June, Collins discussed the issue with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood and has since taken it to the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, on which she serves. Although the measure was approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, it needs approval from the full Senate Appropriations Committee and, eventually, the full Senate.
Still, Wednesday marked significant progress on an issue that has long been debated throughout the state.
“This was a major hurdle to overcome,” said John Diamond, chair of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors. Truck weight limits have been one of the Chamber’s biggest legislative issues for several years. “Senator Collins has worked hard to get her colleagues to buy in and I think it will be more likely than ever to get through the full committee. It speaks well for her.”
In May 2006, an elderly woman trying to cross a downtown Bangor street was struck and killed by a large fuel truck. Other oversized vehicles, including trucks hauling waste, have overturned and damaged roads as a result of having to travel on secondary routes.
Gov. John Baldacci praised Collins and other members of the Maine congressional delegation for pushing the matter forward at the federal level.
“[Federal truck weight restrictions] have for many years significantly hampered the ability of Maine businesses to compete regionally,” he said. “Allowing loads to move from 80,000 pounds to 100,000 pounds on Maine’s interstate will reduce the number of trucks on the road, thereby increasing safety, while reducing net fuel consumption. Importantly, the exemption will also reduce transportation costs, improving economic productivity of Maine industry.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation notified the state in 1994 that it was in violation of federal vehicle weight requirements. As a result, northbound trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds were diverted off Interstate 95 in Augusta, traveling instead on smaller secondary roads that pass through cities, towns, and villages.
Maine leaders have been fighting it ever since.
If Congress finally approves the measure, trucks weighing 100,000 pounds would be able to travel the I-95 corridor all the way to Houlton.
Baldacci pointed out that surrounding states and Canadian provinces have weight restrictions between 99,000 and 107,000 pounds on the interstate and Trans-Canada Highway systems. He has long supported changing federal law in order to raise the weight limit for 6-axle trucks to 100,000 pounds.