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Senate funding bill includes provision to exempt Maine’s federal highways from the 80,000 pound federal truck weight limit

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)

WASHINGTON, D.C.–U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, has successfully secured a provision in the Fiscal Year 2012 Transportation funding bill that would permanently allow the heaviest trucks to travel on federal interstates instead of forcing them off the highway and onto Maine’s secondary roads and downtown streets.

Senator Collins, who has led the effort to allow trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to travel on Maine’s federal interstates –including I-95, 195, 295, and 395, called this “an essential first step toward a permanent fix for this very serious problem.”  While the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee approved the bill today, it must now be approved by the full Senate Appropriations Committee, which is scheduled to consider the bill on Wednesday.  Similar language is not, however, included in the House version of this bill.

Senator Collins’ provision for Maine is paired with a similar change for Vermont, authored by Senator Patrick Leahy, also a member of the Transportation Subcommittee and number two in seniority on the overall Appropriations Committee.

“Public safety, our economy, energy independence, and the environment have always been among my top priorities in the Senate,” said Senator Collins.  “My provision to permanently change federal law would advance all of those goals by allowing the heaviest trucks to travel on our federal interstates in Maine rather than being forced to use secondary roads and downtown streets.

I am pleased to have the support of so many groups in Maine including the Association of Police, the Maine State Police, the State Troopers Association, the Maine Department of Public Safety, the Chiefs of Police, the Maine Motor Transport Association, the Parent Teacher Association, and Maine’s Superintendents of Schools, who have all expressed the importance of safety in getting these heaviest trucks off our local roadways once and for all and onto the interstate where they belong,” Senator Collins continued.

Currently, the heaviest trucks in Maine are diverted onto secondary roadways that cut through our downtowns on narrow streets, creating a major safety concern.  In surrounding New England states and nearby Canadian provinces, trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds are free to use the interstates.  Senator Collins’ provision would not increase the size or weight of trucks.  Maine law already allows trucks up to 100,000 pounds to operate on state and municipal roads.  Heavy trucks already operate on some 22,500 miles of non-interstate roads in Maine, in addition to the approximately 167 miles of the Maine Turnpike.  But the nearly 260 miles of non-Turnpike interstates that are major economic corridors are off limits.

Furthermore, trucks up to 100,000 pounds already are permitted on many interstates in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, and the neighboring Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec.  This puts Maine businesses at a distinct competitive disadvantage.

In 2009, Senator Collins successfully included a provision in the FY 2010 Omnibus Appropriations bill that created a one-year pilot project that allowed trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to travel on Maine’s federal interstates.  According to the Maine Department of Transportation, during the one-year period covered by the pilot, the number of crashes involving trucks on Maine’s local roads was reduced by 72 compared to a five-year average.