Maine’s congressional delegation is pushing hard for legislation that would make permanent a pilot project that has allowed trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds to travel Interstate 95 north of Augusta.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is one of three senators to introduce a bill known as the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act that would allow Maine and other states to increase limits on federal highways to up to 97,000 pounds.
Collins has long been a supporter of the idea and was responsible for getting the pilot project approved last year.
“This legislation will finally create a level playing field for truck weight limits on interstate highways in all states, including Maine, which has been at an economic disadvantage for too long because of discrepancies in truck weight limits,” Collins said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has introduced a House version of the bill.
“Thoughtful implementation of a federal truck weight exemption for the remainder of Maine’s interstate, and changes like it in other states, would help our struggling economy,” Michaud said.
The truck weight issue has been contentious in eastern and northern Maine because current rules allow the heavier trucks on the Maine Turnpike, but force them off at Augusta and onto narrower secondary roads in the region’s towns and cities, including Bangor.
The latest push for a permanent weight limit increase has barely started but already it faces stiff opposition. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has begun lobbying her colleagues to allow the pilot program in Maine, which ends in December, to lapse.
“I am opposed to permitting dangerously large and heavy trucks on the nation’s highways,” Boxer said in a July 14 letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. “Longer and heavier trucks are hazardous because of their longer stopping distances, risk of rollover and greater chance of the last trailer swaying into the adjacent lane. Big trucks also pose threats to America’s infrastructure, causing significantly greater fatigue and damage to roads and bridges.”
Supporters of a weight limit increase have a different take.
“We have an interstate system that was built to accommodate larger vehicles,” said Kate Dufour with the Maine Municipal Association, a longtime supporter of increasing truck weight limits. “Moving these trucks off local roads would reduce damage to those roads and diminish the threat of public safety issues.”
The federal government has imposed a limit of 80,000 pounds on interstate highways since 1974. About a dozen states have various exemptions that allow the use of heavier trucks.
Maine and Vermont are both engaged in a one-year pilot with higher weight limits on the interstates. The pilot project is meant to help generate data about the pros and cons of the change. In addition to the MMA, the Maine Motor Transport Association has supported the pilot project.
A recent Maine Department of Transportation study showed that Maine could save between $1.7 million and $2.3 million a year in reduced pavement repair if the weight limit increases were made permanent.
“What Sen. Collins was able to do in terms of pilot project was monumental,” Dufour said. “Even getting another pilot project or an extension to give more time to gather information would be beneficial.”