WASHINGTON — A conference committee of U.S. Senate and House members has given final approval to a one-year pilot project that would exempt Maine’s highways from a controversial federal truck weight limit.
The experiment would allow trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds and up to 100,000 pounds to travel Interstate 95 between Augusta and Houlton. Such heavy trucks heading north now are forced off the interstate in Augusta onto secondary roads that travel through cities and towns, raising concerns about safety and road wear and tear.
The pilot project was not included in the House-passed version of an appropriations bill, but it was part of the Senate measure. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the conference committee ironing out the differences between the two versions of the appropriations bill, was able to get it included in the final measure.
“Increasing federal truck weight limits on Maine’s interstates has always been one of my top priorities,” Collins said in a prepared statement issued Tuesday night after the conference committee votes. “A uniform truck weight limit would keep trucks on the interstates where they belong, rather than on the rural roads that pass through our small towns and villages.”
The Fiscal Year 2010 Transportation Appropriations conference report is expected to receive final approval from both the House and Senate later this month. Since the fiscal year started on Oct. 1, the measure — and the pilot project — would take effect as soon as the president signs it.
The U.S. Department of Transportation first notified Maine officials in 1994 that heavy trucks on interstates violated federal requirements. Collins and other members of the state’s congressional delegation have been working since to change the law, which sets the weight limit at 80,000 pounds.
The one-year test will allow officials an opportunity to evaluate the pros and cons of allowing the heavier trucks to use I-95.