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Senate Committee supports extending pilot program for heavier trucks in Maine

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
December 15, 2010

The case for heavier trucks received good news in Washington, D.C. this week, with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) stating that the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which she serves as a member, support a one-year extension of a pilot program that exempts Maine’s federal highways from the 80,000 pound federal truck weight limit.

This follows a September approval by the White House to agree to a request from Collins, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to permanently enact a pilot program allowing trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to travel on federal highways in Maine, including I-95, 195, 295, and 395.

Prior to this development, a one-year pilot program that allowed trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to travel on Maine and Vermont’s federal interstates, which was part of the Fiscal Year 2010 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, has been ongoing and set to expire on Friday, December 17. Once the program expires, heavy trucks would then have to be diverted back to secondary roads through downtown areas.

Collins’ office said that according to the results of a preliminary study by the Maine Department of Transportation, the “pilot program has allowed Maine businesses to receive raw materials and ship products more economically,” as well as improve safety, save energy, and reduce emissions.

“Changing the federal law to allow the heaviest trucks to stay on the federal interstates, rather than diverting them to secondary roads and downtowns has always been one of my top priorities in the Senate,” said Senator Collins in a statement. “The pilot project I secured last year has clearly provided economic, energy, and environmental benefits and has made our secondary roads and many downtowns safer.  I am delighted that my colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee recognize the importance of extending this successful pilot project.”

The case for heavier trucks has been supported by various shippers and carriers, too. At the TransComp expo in Ft. Lauderdale last month, Wayne Johnson, manager of carrier relations for Owens Corning, explained that heavier trucks have myriad benefits.

“It is a good thing for the country and a good thing for transportation and takes care of the driver issue and the pollution issue,” said Johnson. “The railroads are not presently supporting it, but I hope in time they will be.”
In a September letter to Capitol Hill, Association of American Railroads (AAR) President and CEO Edward Hamberger said that permanently giving the OK for trucks weighing 100,000 pounds to travel on Maine and Vermont’s interstate highways could provide impetus to trucking interests in the Northeast and along the East Coast to lift the federal truck weight ban elsewhere.
“Not only do extremely heavy trucks today exact a serious wear and tear toll on America’s already overextended highways, but much of the costs to repair roads and bridges damaged by heavy-load trucks is paid by taxpayers and not the trucking companies responsible for the damage,” said Hamberger. “The U.S. Department of Transportation has determined that trucks weighing 80,000 to 100,000 pounds pay just half of the cost of the damage they do to the nation’s highways. This huge heavy truck underpayment means that the remainder of these costs is paid for by the general public.”

Hamberger also stated that along with serious infrastructure damage and truck underpayment concerns, 100,000 pound trucks will siphon a significant percentage of freight traffic from the country’s railroads.  “This will rob the railroad industry of revenue needed for reinvestment and add congestion to the nation’s highways.”
American Trucking Associations’ Director of Highway Operations Darrin Roth had a different take on the impact of increased truck weight.

“This is not a choice between a 100,000 pound truck and an 80,000 pound truck,” Roth told LM in a recent interview. “Maine and Vermont were already allowing heavier trucks on their secondary road system and will continue to do so regardless of what happens with federal law. The change in federal law with the pilot program and the potential permanent extension of the pilot program allow those states to move those states to the interstate system, which is much more safer and built stronger than secondary roads and does not have as much pavement or bridge damage.”

Roth said it is a positive step forward for Maine and Vermont and is also energy-efficient in that it reduces shipping costs over long distances.

Collins’ office said that the Senate is expected to consider the proposed federal funding bill, which includes the one-year extension, this week. If it passes, it will then be taken up by the House of Representatives. The House did not include any language to extend the pilot program in a funding bill passed last week.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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