Heavier trucks hazard to Maine roads, people

Posted Jan. 27, 2011, at 8:56 p.m.

Heavier trucks mean bigger safety problems and economic costs for Maine families despite what state elected officials and trucking and shipping interests would like you to believe. For years, Maine communities have been subjected to unnecessary safety risks as 100,000-pound trucks plowed through our local, neighborhood roads, past schools and playgrounds, and along narrow scenic roads. Now state leaders are arguing that if these excessively heavy trucks are allowed on every road in Maine, it will be safer for all of us.

This is an illogical and false argument that puts trucking and shipping interests ahead of public safety. These trucks don’t belong on any road, and efforts continuing to push for the so-called congressional “pilot program” must be stopped.

There is another viable, safer and cost-effective option — Maine should reduce our state truck weight limit to the federal limit of 80,000 pounds and improve safety on every road and highway.

Heavier trucks are more deadly. The stopping distance for a 100,000-pound truck is over 400 feet, longer than the length of a football field, and that’s only if the brakes are working properly. In fatal crashes involving a truck and a car, 97 percent of the deaths are the occupants of the passenger car.

I live this statistic every day because in 1993 my teenage son, Jeff, and three of his friends were killed by a large truck on the Maine Turnpike. The chance of surviving a serious crash with a large truck is slim, and now our elected officials are pushing to make it practically impossible by allowing even heavier trucks on our roads.

Heavier trucks have not resulted in fewer trucks — it never has and it never will. Allowing 100,000-pound trucks to travel on Maine’s interstate has not meant fewer trucks or their removal from local roads. These excessively heavy trucks must enter and exit the interstate and continue to use local roads for freight pickup and deliveries.

In fact, the pilot program attracted even larger numbers of heavier trucks. According to data released by the Maine Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, or FHWA, the number of six-axle 100,000-pound trucks traveling north of Augusta that entered I-95 at Sidney nearly tripled from about 400 to over 1,100 per week immediately after the pilot project started. The total number of six-axle, 100,000-pound trucks using both I-95 and a parallel state route combined almost doubled, from about 600 to about 1,100 per week.

State and federal officials admit that 100,000-pound trucks are dangerous to Maine families and our infrastructure. Safety groups recently obtained, under Maine’s open access law, e-mails sent between Maine and federal transportation officials that show collaboration with industry behind closed doors on the pilot program.

Furthermore, FHWA officials repeatedly stated concerns about a reduction in bridge safety and increased road stresses resulting from increased weights. An FHWA official concludes, “Maine’s interstate bridges were not designed for 100,000-pound trucks. This analysis shows that a significant number of bridges will have their factor of safety reduced significantly.”

Maine families will pay with their lives and their wallets if these trucks are allowed. At a time when our state is already facing a shortfall of more than $700 million in highway spending over the next two years, Maine taxpayers, and not trucking interests, will pay the price for truck weight increases.

Maine elected officials are using our tax dollars to bail out the failing Montreal, Mainel & Atlantic railroad. Simultaneously, they are pursuing contradictory policies that contribute to the financial ruin of regional railroads by allowing 100,000-pound trucks that divert freight from rail to truck.

Increased truck weights also burden Maine taxpayers who are paying for infrastructure maintenance and repairs caused by big trucks. Adding insult to injury, soon enough Maine residents will be asked to pay more at the gas pump to fix our decaying roads and bridges.

I urge Sen. Susan Collins and other members of the Maine congressional delegation and our state officials to stop allowing excessively heavy trucks to travel throughout our state. Heavier trucks are a hazard and a menace to Mainers.

Daphne Izer of Lisbon is founder and co-chair of Parents Against Tired Truckers.

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