Returning tractor-trailer trucks to Maine’s back roads will be a travesty, from a safety and economic perspective. That is why it is crucial that a provision permanently allowing these trucks on the interstate be included in a funding or other bill passed by Congress this year.
One of those opportunities was diminished Thursday when the House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution — a measure to continue government funding for a short period of time — that did not include an extension of the truck weight provision. Rep. Mike Michaud voted against the funding measure for this reason.
Last year, Sen. Susan Collins succeeded in getting federal approval for a one-year pilot project allowing trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds on the state’s interstate system. Previously, trucks weighing over 80,000 pounds were barred from I-95 north of Augusta, I-295 in the Portland area and I-395 between Bangor and Brewer, forcing them to travel on back roads and through downtowns.
Such restrictions do not apply in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York and nearby Canadian provinces, putting Maine at an economic and safety disadvantage.
The pilot expires on Dec. 18 and without congressional action the larger trucks will again be prohibited from the interstate. This is unsafe, more costly for businesses and causes more pollution.
In September, Sen. Collins persuaded President Barack Obama to include a permanent fix in his continuing resolution proposal. “Continuing the program will improve safety on local roads and increase efficiency of commercial trucking in the region,” the president said at the time.
The House writes its own continuing resolution based on the president’s blueprint. In this instance, however, the House did not include the truck weight provision in the three resolutions it has passed since September. The Senate has yet to include it either.
Before Congress adjourns for the year, it must pass a continuing resolution, a stopgap funding measure that maintains current government spending to avoid a shutdown, or a more comprehensive omnibus spending bill.
Attention has now largely shifted to ensuring the truck weight provision is in the spending bill. On Friday, Rep. Michaud said he had “confirmation from congressional leaders” that a draft spending bill will extend the pilot project.
The bottom line is that returning large trucks to Maine’s back roads and small towns is a huge step backward.
According to a study by the Maine Department of Transportation, done as part of the pilot project, a trip from Hampden to Houlton on I-95 saves 50 minutes of driving time as opposed to using Route 2 and avoids more than 270 intersections and nine school crossings.
Keith Van Scotter, CEO of Lincoln Paper and Tissue, said the restriction will increase his transportation fuel costs by 25 percent. “It’s a big deal.”
It’s a big deal that needs to be resolved in the next week. To do this, the state’s congressional delegation needs to remain focused on ensuring Maine does not return to an unsafe and costly situation.