WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Susan Collins proved herself to be a congressional heavy hitter late Tuesday night when she got a measure that would allow heavier trucks on stretches of interstate through Maine included in the 2010 Transportation Appropriations bill.
The one-year pilot program will increase the maximum allowed weight of trucks driving on the interstate in Maine from 80,000 pounds to 100,000 pounds. The trial year is the first step in correcting what Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, called in a statement a “truck weight mismatch.”
Collins, the first Maine senator to sit on the Appropriations Committee since Margaret Chase Smith in 1972, has been tenacious on the highway issue for some time.
“Increasing federal truck weight limits on Maine’s interstates has always been one of my top priorities,” Collins said in a statement. “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.”
Collins said she was “delighted” to have the measure included in the bill. Now that the final Transportation Appropriations bill has been cleared by the House-Senate conference committee, both chambers must pass this final version before it can be signed by President Barack Obama and take effect.
Michaud agreed that the bill was a good beginning.
“Maine deserves a permanent solution to this issue so that we can improve road safety, increase productivity and remain economically competitive with our neighbors,” he said.
Officials at the Maine Department of Transportation were happy with the inclusion of the pilot project in the bill.
Herb Thomson, director of communications for DOT, said that the department was receptive to the program.
“We have been working with our congressional delegation as a united front to move the truck weight limits in this direction for several years,” he said.
DOT Commissioner David Cole said the two lengths of interstate the weight limits would affect had allowed trucks weighing up to 80,000 pounds, while other New England states allowed the heavier trucks. The weight difference would allow the trucks to move more products and improve the economic climate without forcing them to travel on 200 miles of back road through Maine, he said.
“The actual size of the truck is not any larger,” Cole said.
Instead of more lighter trucks on the roads, Cole said, the pilot program would allow for a more greenhouse gas and safety-friendly Maine.
“The more vehicles you have on the road, the more opportunities for conflict there are,” he said.
John Diamond, board chairman for the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday’s announcement was good news.
“This has been a longstanding concern of the Chamber, and we have worked with Senator Collins and her staff on this for a long time,” he said Wednesday. “We are extremely pleased that she and other members of our delegation have been successful in advocating for this pilot project.”
Cole said the state had been waiting for the pilot program for a long time.
“This is the right thing to do,” he said. “People just look at us like, why can’t we get this done? There are compelling arguments everywhere, and we’re just glad that it’s part of our larger national debate and that this hurdle’s been met. We’ll just cross our fingers and hope it’s permanent.”