Heavy trucks again forced off interstates

A truck leaves the Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town. The U.S. Senate had approved a one-year pilot program that would allow trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds on Interstate 95 north of Augusta.
A truck leaves the Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town. The U.S. Senate had approved a one-year pilot program that would allow trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds on Interstate 95 north of Augusta.
Posted Dec. 17, 2010, at 10:52 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 17, 2010, at 11:09 p.m.
Maine State Police Trooper John Bailey inspects a waste truck after weighing it on its way to Juniper Ridge Landfill on Route 16 in Old Town.
Maine State Police Trooper John Bailey inspects a waste truck after weighing it on its way to Juniper Ridge Landfill on Route 16 in Old Town.

BANGOR,  Maine — Off again. That’s the latest status of efforts to keep weight limits on Maine’s federal interstate highways at 100,000 pounds, just like every surrounding state and Canadian province. As of midnight Friday, the legal limit on I-295, I-395 and portions of I-95 dropped to 80,000 pounds.

The higher limits, approved last year as a pilot project authored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in recent weeks has suffered the on-again, off-again tumult of a stormy romance.

The measure found initial support from President Barack Obama, who recommended it be included in a budget bill called a continuing resolution, which continues federal funding at past levels until Congress passes a new spending bill. The continuing resolution passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives — after the truck weight provision was stripped.

With the program in danger, Collins, aided by pressure from the Maine Department of Transportation and Gov. John Baldacci, seemingly brought it back to life earlier this week when a one-year extension was written into an omnibus spending bill that would have replaced the continuing resolution.

Then on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced that he had abandoned efforts to pass the $1.1 trillion 2011 omnibus budget bill after firm opposition from Senate Republicans and some Democrats. Tripping up the bill for many lawmakers were the more than $8 billion in earmarks proposed just weeks before a House of Representatives ban on earmarks takes effect. According to Collins, the Senate is moving toward approval of the House’s continuing resolution, which doesn’t include an extension of the 100,000-pound truck weight limit in Maine.

“Unfortunately, when the House of Representatives passed a sweeping funding bill last week, it did not include a provision to make permanent or even extend the pilot program,” Collins said in a press release. “It is increasingly unlikely that we can restore the truck weight language that the House failed to include in time to pre-vent the project from expiring.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who voted against the House continuing resolution because it lacked a truck weights provision for Maine among other things, blamed the failure of the Senate omnibus bill on Republicans who backed out of negotiations “at the last minute,” according to a press release.

“I am hopeful that our allies in the Senate will convince [Minority Leader Mitch McConnell] to accept an extension of Maine’s pilot program in whatever bill is moved forward,” said Michaud, who represents the 2nd District.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who opposed the 2011 omnibus bill, said in a statement that the bill was “a symbol of a failed system and process gone totally awry in these serious economic times.”

Snowe, who has jurisdiction over truck weights through her seat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said she is in favor of a nationwide policy of a 100,000-pound limit so states like Maine don’t have to fight for exemptions.

Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Cole said Friday that the state is working with trucking companies to make the transition back to the lower limits on the interstates. Trucks can still weigh a total of 100,000 pounds as long as they stay on state highways and the Maine Turnpike.

“It’s important to get the word out to residents, too,” said Cole. “It’s the residents on state highways who are going to wake up in the morning and find more trucks going by their homes. I don’t know of any miracles in the making out there, so for the time being, we’re going to have to deal with this.”

Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said the state police would begin enforcing the lower limit on Maine’s federal interstates immediately, though he did not have details about any specific enforcement actions planned in the short term. No one in the Maine State Police’s commercial vehicles division could be reached for comment.

“The law reverts to 80,000 pounds at midnight,” McCausland said Friday. “We have no choice but to enforce the law.”

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