BANGOR, Maine — Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe has introduced legislation in an attempt to solve what she and others believe is an inequity in the trucking industry that puts Maine at a competitive disadvantage with other states.
The Commercial Truck Safety Act, which Snowe’s office says she will introduce to Congress on Friday, would give Maine an opening to petition for heavier trucks to be allowed on federal interstate highways, which in this state include I-295, I-395 and portions of I-95. Snowe’s bill would allow states to petition the U.S. secretary of transportation for a permanent waiver, bypassing the congressional approval necessary now.
Permanent approval would involve the completion of a three-year pilot program and the formation of state-level committees that would use data already being collected by transportation and law enforcement agencies to evaluate the safety of the higher weight limits at the end of the pilot program.
Maine previously was part of a one-year pilot program that allowed 100,000-pound trucks on interstate highways, but that program expired in December 2010. That means trucking companies that want to use the interstate are faced with a choice between lightening their loads by 20,000 pounds or using secondary roads. Trucking companies and an array of state and federal officials long have advocated for the 100,000-pound limit for economic reasons. Many businesses and homeowners who live along busy state roads also support the higher limit because it would reduce commercial traffic in their areas. Republican Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, D-Maine, also are strong supporters of the higher limit.
The higher limits are not without opponents, which include railroad companies and safety advocates who argue heavier trucks are more dangerous in general, especially where there are 65-mph speed limits.
In a Thursday press release, Snowe argued that Maine is at a disadvantage. Twenty-seven U.S. states allow the higher limit, including several in New England.
“The current treatment of truck weights on interstate highways is a glaring example of a bureaucratic regulation creating both safety hazards on secondary roads and tangible barriers to job growth at a time when the nation’s unemployment rate is stuck above 9 percent and Maine’s mill towns are struggling to thrive,” said Snowe, who is a senior member of the Senate Transportation Committee, in a press release. “Trucks belong on the highway.”