Michaud touts truck weights as a priority

Posted Feb. 18, 2011, at 11:10 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has introduced legislation that would increase truck weight limits on interstate highways in Maine.

The “Safe and Efficient Transportation Act,” co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, would allow Maine and other states to increase the limit from 80,000 pounds to 100,000 pounds. Right now, big trucks are prohibited from traveling on Interstate 95 north of Augusta.

“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 Friday.

The congressman said the limits hurt Maine competitively, contribute to higher fuel costs and decrease safety on Maine’s secondary roads.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said truck weights would be one of her top legislative priorities as well. She and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., have teamed up to sponsor legislation in the Senate.

Both Michaud and Collins have pushed truck weight issue in the past, with limited success.

Collins successfully included a pilot project in the 2010 Senate transportation appropriations bill. The House version of the bill, despite Michaud’s support, did not include the pilot project.

Republicans criticized Michaud during his re-election campaign last fall for claiming he was a leader on the issue. Transportation industry advocates disputed those criticisms and defended Michaud’s record.

“In working on this issue for years, I have come to realize that Maine is not the only state affected by truck weight mismatches,” the congressman said. “In order to move forward on this issue, I have made this a national bill that would allow affected states like Maine to opt into an increase in truck weights in their states.”

The opt-in provision is not included in Collins’ bill.

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 100,000-pound trucks were allowed to travel on Maine’s interstates.

Another study, conducted by trucking company H.O. Bouchard Inc. of Hampden, illustrates how increasing truck weight limits could improve efficiency and safety. A truck traveling 120.8 miles from Hampden to Houlton on Route 2 shifted 192 times, encountered nine school crossings, four hospitals, 30 streetlights and 86 crosswalks. By contrast, a truck traveling that same time of day on Interstate 95 drove 122.1 miles, shifted only three times and encountered no school crossings, hospitals, streetlights or crosswalks.

The truck traveling on the interstate also would save 50 minutes of travel time and $30 in fuel costs.

Despite widespread support across Maine, easing the federal truck weight limits has considerable opposition from national highway safety groups and the powerful railroad industry lobby. A Maine-based group, Parents Against Tired Truckers, also has spoken out against raising truck weight limits.

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