Maine’s congressional delegation cheered this week’s news that President Barack Obama has agreed to make permanent a pilot program that allows trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to travel on federal interstate highways in Maine.
The request came from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Appropriations Committee, to include the provision in the president’s continuing resolution, a bill that continues to fund the federal government past Oct. 1.
“I have worked hard to convince the administration that it simply makes no sense to force heavy trucks off the federal highway and onto our smaller roads in Maine,” Collins said in a statement. “This increases the wear and tear on our secondary roads and jeopardizes the safety of both drivers and pedestrians. I am delighted that the administration understands the argument and has agreed to my request to help make permanent the temporary provision allowing trucks on Maine’s federal interstate system.”
Last year, Senator Collins and others successfully included a provision in an appropriations bill that created a one-year pilot project that allows trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to travel on Maine’s federal interstates, such as Interstate 95. That project is set to expire on Dec. 17, 2010, but the Federal Highway Administration is currently conducting an assessment of the pilot program’s impact on safety, commerce and road wear and tear.
“This shift in policy is long overdue,” U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, a longtime proponent of permanently changing Maine’s Interstate truck weight limits, said in a statement. “It will increase the safety on Maine’s roads and help improve our economy by allowing our businesses to more efficiently ship their goods to market.”
Brian Parke, president and CEO of Maine Motor Transport Association, praised the efforts of Maine’s congressional leaders.
“Trucking companies will not have to worry about a day where their drivers are forced back onto the secondary roads to deliver the freight that drives our economy,” he said.
Keith VanScotter, CEO of Lincoln Paper and Tissue in Lincoln, said the truck weight limit is a big deal to his 400 employees.
“We send out 20 to 25 outbound loads per day that travel an average of 900 miles,” he said. “[Relaxing the weight limits] is like being 200 miles closer to customers. It saves money and it makes us more competitive.”
Despite the good news, not everyone in Washington, D.C. is supportive of lifting limits on truck weights. In a July letter, California Senator Barbara Boxer expressed her opposition to extending Maine’s pilot program.
“Some in the House and Senate remain adamantly opposed to this change,” Michaud said. “Because of that, I will continue to work hard with the Vermont and Maine delegations to make sure this becomes law.”
Both chambers of Congress are working on their own continuing resolutions, which would need to be merged and voted on by Sept. 30.
The truck weight issue has been around since 1994, when the U.S. Department of Transportation first notified Maine that it was in violation of federal vehicle weight requirements. Trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds were subsequently forced off Interstate 95 in Augusta.
In June 2004, a national study found that extending the current truck weight exemption on the Maine Turnpike to all federal highways in Maine would reduce heavy truck traffic through several busy communities.