Big trucks, little roads are chief concern

By Ron Gastia, Special to the BDN
Posted Oct. 27, 2011, at 1:11 p.m.

As chief of police in Bangor, it is my responsibility to do everything possible to ensure public safety. That is why I am such a strong supporter of efforts to move heavy trucks from our downtown streets to the federal interstate, where it is safer for them to travel.

Next week, the U.S. Senate is expected to approve a measure, introduced by Sen. Susan Collins, to permanently allow trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to travel on Maine’s federal interstate highways such as I-95. This is the right thing to do.

Right now, state law allows a truck weighing up to 100,000 pounds to drive on the Maine Turnpike. But federal law forces that same truck to exit the highway in Augusta. From there, a truck driving north to places such as Bangor or Houlton must make its way on secondary roads. The bottom line is these trucks do not belong on city streets or rural roads in Bangor, Orono, Old Town, Lincoln or anywhere in between.

I, along with other chiefs of police across Maine, believe these trucks pose a significant risk to the safety of residents as they travel through residential neighborhoods, on populated city streets and on narrow and winding rural roads. We have seen, firsthand, the dangers that these trucks pose to Maine citizens as they travel our secondary roads.

The constant changing of speeds and repeated starts and stops of these trucks cause regular disruption to the flow of traffic. Their presence as they travel on streets and roads that were not build to handle their size and weight has resulted in traffic accidents and, unfortunately, tragedies.

During the winter months, Maine’s secondary roads become much narrower, rural roads are more slippery and speed limits are reduced, thereby increasing the danger to pedestrians and other drivers. No matter how experienced a truck driver may be, they cannot stop these trucks on a dime, they cannot anticipate every situation that can occur in heavily populated areas and they cannot prevent the shifting of their heavy loads from occurring.

Recently, anti-trucking groups based in Washington, D.C., have tried to confuse this issue. They want you to believe it’s not safe to have these trucks on interstate highways. The truth is these groups do not want trucks on the road at all. They refuse to recognize the value of our trucking industry to commerce. They also fail to acknowledge that heavy trucks are already on the road and, therefore, prohibiting their presence on our interstate highways will not make our residents safer.

The proposal before Congress will not allow trucks on the road heavier than those already delivering goods. Instead, it will simply allow the heavy trucks that currently use our downtowns as pass-throughs to operate on highways built to better standards that are the safest place for them.

Sen. Collins’ efforts are supported by a wide range of public safety groups, including the Maine Association of Police, the Maine Chiefs of Police and the Maine Department of Public Safety. In addition, this effort is supported by the Bangor School Department and the Maine Parent Teacher Association because they recognize that children and families should be able to safely walk or bike along rural roads without worrying about large, heavy trucks passing by.

In Bangor, each day, hundreds of young people are walking and crossing the street to get to school. Removing heavy trucks from these roads will obviously help improve safety.

In 2009, Congress approved a one-year pilot project that Sen. Collins authored to allow heavier trucks to use federal interstates. Safety improved, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety. Unfortunately, that project expired in December, and overnight, heavy trucks were forced back onto our downtown streets.

Because of the need for delivery of goods and products to final destinations, allowing the heaviest trucks to travel on our interstate highways will not totally eliminate the presence of all trucks on Maine’s streets and roads. However, the number of those trucks will be significantly reduced, as was experienced during the pilot project, which will lessen the negative impact on our roads and will considerably increase the safety of the public.

It is my hope that Congress will see that Sen. Collins’ proposal to permanently remove heavy trucks from our residential streets and secondary roads will make the roads safer for all of us.

Ron Gastia is Bangor’s chief of police.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/10/27/opinion/contributors/big-trucks-little-roads-are-chief-concern/ printed on November 28, 2014