Weighty solution for a big problem

200 dpi 68p x 41p Paul Schmid color illustration of lines of cars and trucks stacked on top of each other. The Seattle Times 1999; With 970818 GRIDLOCK, KRT Interactive Web package; With 990122 RISKY DRIVING HABITS, 980218 ROAD RAGE CAMPAIGN and 970204 MORGAN TRAFFIC LIGHT, KRT News in Motion animations
KRT
200 dpi 68p x 41p Paul Schmid color illustration of lines of cars and trucks stacked on top of each other. The Seattle Times 1999; With 970818 GRIDLOCK, KRT Interactive Web package; With 990122 RISKY DRIVING HABITS, 980218 ROAD RAGE CAMPAIGN and 970204 MORGAN TRAFFIC LIGHT, KRT News in Motion animations
Posted Dec. 22, 2009, at 7:52 p.m.

No matter which holiday you are celebrating this season, each Maine resident just received a valuable present.

Our congressional delegation has been working closely with municipalities, business and transportation groups, as well as state agencies tasked with public safety, for many years to get Congress to extend the weight limit exemption for the interstate system north of Augusta. For decades, certain equipment configurations could haul the state’s legal weight limit of 100,000 pounds on the Maine Turnpike from the southernmost tip of the state to Exit 113 in Augusta, but no farther north on I-95. Thankfully, this has changed.

We applaud Sen. Susan Collins for her achievement in introducing a pilot project into the recently signed bill that contained federal transportation appropriations. We’re not sure which of her common sense arguments finally resonated with her congressional peers, whether it was the improved safety this would bring or maybe it was the positive environmental and economic effects. No matter, the practical reality is that the solution fixes the problem, albeit during a one-year pilot project.

More efficient weight configurations mean fewer trucks on the road. Fewer trucks on the road will reduce engine emissions and promote fuel conservation, all while lessening our dependence on foreign oil. It would take approximately three trucks operating at 80,000 pounds to replace two trucks operating at 100,000 pounds to haul the same amount of freight.

In fact, a recent study by the American Transportation Research Institute, commissioned by the Maine Department of Transportation, found that the fuel efficiency of these rigs would improve up to 21 percent by allowing state weight limits on the entire highway system and emissions would decrease between 6 and 11 percent. Extrapolating their findings over an entire week resulted in savings of as much as 675 gallons of fuel, up to 6.8 metric tons of carbon dioxide and almost 94 grams of particulate matter. That’s each week and only from trucks shifting from Route 9 to I-95.

The change will also improve safety by decreasing the interactions with other vehicles and pedestrians when trucks are able to use the interstate instead of going past driveways and through towns to deliver the goods that move the Maine economy.

A comprehensive study done by the Maine DOT and Maine Turnpike Authority has definitively concluded that significant infrastructure savings could be realized by our state if the 100,000-pound weight limit were allowed on the entire interstate system — a product of putting these rigs on the road best designed to handle commercial vehicles. To be clear, we are advocating only for a six-axle combination configuration as the addition of the sixth-axle preserves stopping distances by adding braking power and lessens pavement damage by improving weight distribution.

Safety is the most important reason to embrace this pilot project. Federal Highway Administration statistics tracking truck-involved crashes have shown consistent improvement by the trucking industry, with current crash rates at the lowest levels since the U.S. Department of Transportation began tracking large truck safety records in 1975.

This provision would also bring uniformity to the region and discontinue Maine’s competitive disadvantage with our neighbors, for now. New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Canada already have permanently higher weight limits on their entire interstate systems, which put our businesses at a disadvantage, a fact not lost on the hundreds of small trucking companies hauling raw materials to the few mills still left in this state.

The truck weights pilot project is not only strongly supported by groups you would expect like the trucking, oil dealers and forest products industries, but by the Maine Legislature, municipalities, Maine DOT and the Maine Department of Public Safety as well as the Maine State Police and many local and regional Chambers of Commerce. We all may not see eye to eye on every public policy issue, but this one only makes sense.

This pilot project gives Maine a foot in the door to further prove it should be permanent, like has been on the turnpike for more than 25 years. We encourage you to take an opportunity to thank Sen. Collins and the rest of the delegation who have worked so hard to get us this far.

Brian D. Parke is vice president of Maine Motor Transport Association Inc.

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