Ask Larry Sidelinger how things are going and he’ll say, “I’m still in business.”
He’s joking, but not by much.
Diesel fuel prices average about $3 a gallon in Maine — not great, but not the runaway $4.25 a gallon rate they hit in 2008. The forest products industry markets are slowly inching back up from the recession pit they fell into two years ago, so Sidelinger and other truckers who survived the 2008 recession can keep going.
But they say they still need proposed legislation that would allow Maine and other states to permanently set truck weight limits on federal highways at 97,000 pounds. Before a federal pilot program took effect last December, Maine truck weights were limited to 80,000 pounds on the interstate north of Augusta. The program, which allows weights up 100,000 pounds, lapses in December.
“Speaking for myself, it only makes sense to get these 100,000-pound trucks off the secondary roads, where they tear up the roads and jeopardize the safety of the people around them, onto an interstate highway system that is better built to handle them,”
Sidelinger, owner of Yankee Pride Transportation Co. of Damariscotta, said Tuesday.
“We’re very favorably inclined towards that,” said Michael A. Beardsley, executive director of Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, which includes close to 100 logging and forest products industry hauling businesses. “We certainly think that the increased weight limits are a benefit for a lot of logging operations, and many of those businesses do other kinds of hauling as well.”
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is one of three senators who introduced a bill known as the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act, which would allow Maine and other states to increase truck weight limits on federal highways to up to 97,000 pounds.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has introduced a House version of the bill. The bills were introduced last week.
Current federal rules allow the heavier trucks on interstate roads south of Augusta, but force them off at Augusta and onto narrower secondary roads in northern Maine’s towns and cities, including Bangor.
The legislation backed by Collins and Michaud has sparked opposition nationally, with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., among those who say the bills, and the pilot program that helped spawn them, dramatically increase wear on interstate roads and bridges and threaten motorists’ safety by allowing overweight and unsafe trucks onto those roads.
Brian Parke, president and CEO of the Maine Motor Transport Association, which has more than 1,100 members and advocates for all transportation-related issues in Maine, said the idea that the trucks worsen traffic or road wear on interstate highways is misguided.
The weight increase would reduce truck exposure to railroad crossings, pedestrians, oncoming vehicles and other secondary road hazards while reducing emissions and traffic by allowing truckers to carry more weight less often, he said.
“It’s a fabulous idea,” Parke said.
The bills, he said, would be another hedge against truckers being forced to park their trucks and hang for-sale signs on them.
Parke said he is working with Collins and Michaud to extend the pilot program another year and to support the federal legislation as it works its way through both houses.