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Full Senate Appropriations Committee agrees to include provision in funding bill that would allow heavier trucks to use Maine’s federal interstates.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The full Senate Appropriations Committee today approved a provision, authored by Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, 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’ provision, which received bipartisan support, is included in the Fiscal Year 2012 Transportation funding bill that must now be approved by the full Senate.  Similar language is not, however, included in the House version of this bill.

Senator Collins 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.  Her provision for Maine is paired with a similar change for Vermont, authored by Senator Patrick Leahy, also a member of the Transportation Subcommittee, who has worked closely with Senator Collins on this issue.

“Wherever I go in Maine, from the supermarket in Bangor, to the post office in Lincoln, to the China Dinah—people tell me that they want the heaviest trucks allowed to drive our federal interstates rather than being forced to use secondary roads and travel through crowded downtowns, like Bangor,” said Senator Collins.  “Safety is my top concern.  My provision would not increase the size or weight of trucks.  Maine law already allows trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to operate on state and municipal roads.  But these same trucks are not allowed on the interstates, where it is safer for them to travel.”

Senator Collins’ effort is supported by 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 the Bangor School Department, 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.

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 most of the surrounding New England states and nearby Canadian provinces, trucks weighing 100,000 pounds are free to use the interstates, but not in Maine and Vermont.  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, a pilot project that Senator Collins wrote, was included in the 2010 Omnibus Appropriations bill.  This one-year pilot project 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.