GOP claim of Michaud inattention to truck weight law denied by industry

Posted Oct. 21, 2010, at 8:03 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 24, 2010, at 5:40 p.m.

Transportation industry advocates ridiculed state Republican Party claims Thursday that U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud had “nothing to do” with federal legislation that temporarily increases truck weight limits on Maine’s interstate highways north of Augusta from 80,000 to about 100,000 pounds.

“For them to say he has done nothing is completely unfair and untrue,” said Brian Parke, president and CEO of Maine Motor Transport Association, a 1,200-member group that advocates for the state’s transportation industry.

“It is absolutely ridiculous to say that Congressman Michaud hasn’t fought hard for higher truck weights and for improved transportation infrastructure in Maine,” said Maria Fuentes, executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association, a 700-member organization of local government and business leaders lobbying for an improved transportation network for Maine.

Michaud is running against Republican Jason Levesque for the 2nd District seat.

A press release Thursday from the Maine Republican Victory Campaign communications director Lance Dutson said Michaud, a Democratic incumbent from East Millinocket, oversteps when he claims credit for the program, which will lapse in mid-December if not made permanent or placed in a continuing resolution.

The pilot effort has drawn acclaim from state leaders in government and industry, who say it improves Maine’s competitiveness by allowing faster and safer hauling of goods.

“The problem is, Michaud had nothing to do with the program,” the release says.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins got the program in the Senate 2010 Transportation Appropriations bill. The Senate bill, which included this provision, was then conferenced with the House of Representatives version, which did not include the provision, and the pilot program was passed through the Senate effort, Dutson said.

“The only thing Mike Michaud did to raise the federal truck weight limit in Maine was vote to pass the bill,” Charlie Webster, Maine’s GOP chairman, is quoted as saying. “By Michaud’s logic, we should be praising Rep. Abercrombie of Hawaii or Rep. Dicks of Washington, or any one of the other 220 members of Congress who did just as much as Michaud to get this bill passed.”

All the advocates interviewed Thursday agreed that Collins led in securing the program’s passage but said all members of the state’s federal delegation deserve some credit. And focusing narrowly upon the passage of a pilot program obscures Michaud’s work on that and other transportation issues.

The truck weight issue has been around since 1994, when federal officials notified Maine that it was violating federal vehicle weight requirements. Trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds were forced off Interstate 95 and onto state and secondary roads in Augusta and northward.

In working since then to change that, Michaud “stood up to the railroad industry as our chief opponent, at great political peril to himself, because it was the right thing to do,” Parke said. “He also leveraged his position on the Transportation Infrastructure Committee and opened the door to include increased truck productivity in the next highway reauthorization bill.”

“Mike has been an indispensable part of truck weight reform. The groundwork he laid helped pave the way for the program that Sen. Collins and Sen. Leahy got passed,” said John Runyan, executive director of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity of Washington, D.C., an organization of more than 150 shippers and as-sociations dedicated to increasing the federal vehicle weight limit to 97,000 pounds for six-axle vehicles.

Denis Berube, a director at the Northern Maine Development Commission, also credited Michaud with much work on the program.

Fuentes said of Michaud that “I don’t remember having meetings with him on transportation issues when he did not talk about truck weights.”

Dutson stood by his contentions.

“The fact is that the Appropriations Bill didn’t come out of the House with the pilot truck weights proposal,” Dutson said. “He [Michaud] may have a good record on transportation issues, but he did not do anything on this bill. There’s no record of it.

“This is an election year, and in this particular case, he overshot,” Dutson said. “He stepped in front of something that he had nothing to do with.”

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