Increasing the federal highway truck weight limit on Maine’s interstate highways has always been one of my top priorities in the Senate. But, to say that it has been difficult would be an understatement.

That is why I am delighted that, after a lot of hard work, I have convinced my colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve a one-year pilot project to exempt Maine’s interstate highways from the 80,000 pound federal truck weight limit.

Under current law, trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds are on the Maine Turnpike – which runs from Maine’s border with New Hampshire to Augusta. These same trucks are also permitted on interstate highways in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York as well as the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec.

The Maine Turnpike designation ends at Augusta, but I-95 proceeds another 200 miles north to Houlton. Even so, drivers of heavy trucks are forced off the highway and onto smaller, secondary roads that pass through cities, towns, and rural neighborhoods.

It simply makes no sense to force heavy trucks off the highway and onto our smaller roads. This increases the wear-and-tear on our secondary roads and jeopardizes the safety of both drivers and pedestrians. The problem Maine faces due to the disparity in truck weight limits affects many communities, but it is clearly evident in Bangor and Brewer. In this region, a two-mile stretch of Interstate 395 connects two major state highways that carry significant truck traffic across Maine.

In addition, my proposal would also allow these trucks to use I-295 and I-195 reducing heavy truck traffic through several other communities such as Freeport, Saco, and Old Orchard Beach.

Congestion is a significant issue, and safety is seriously compromised as a result of these required diversions. In June 2004, Wilbur Smith Associates, a nationally recognized transportation consulting firm, completed a study which found that extending the current truck weight exemption on the Maine Turnpike to all interstate highways in Maine would result in a significant decrease of three fatal crashes per year.

Additionally, a uniform truck weight limit of 100,000 pounds would result in economic and environmental benefits. Last year, I met Kurt Babineau, a small business owner and second generation logger and trucker from West Enfield. has been struggling with the increasing costs of running his operation. All of the pulpwood his business produces is transported to Verso Paper in Jay, a 165-mile round-trip. Kurt estimates that permitting his trucks to travel on all of I-95 would save his company at least 118 gallons of fuel each week. This would not only result in a significant savings for his business but would also benefit our nation as we look for ways to decrease the overall consumption of fuel.

This provision for the one-year pilot project would also require the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Maine Department of Transportation to study the impact on safety, road durability, commerce and energy use. These agencies would be required to submit their findings to Congress.

I am hopeful that the one-year pilot project that I authored will become law. It is a common-sense proposal that would correct a disparity and help resolve a significant safety problem in our state.

Sen. Susan Collins is Maine’s junior senator.

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