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Healthy Weight Gain Could Be In Store For Maine Interstates

BANGOR, Me. - Like a poor man guarding his only pair of good shoes, much of Maine's Interstate is off limits to trucks with a GVW over 80,000 lbs unless they buy special permits; only the Maine Turnpi...

BANGOR, Me. –Like a poor man guarding his only pair of good shoes, much of Maine’s Interstate is off limits to trucks with a GVW over 80,000 lbs unless they buy special permits; only the Maine Turnpike, the portion of the I-95 running from Kittery on the New Hampshire state line, north to Augusta, allows 100,000 lbs as a matter of course.

Truckers running up to 100,000 lbs are, however, welcome to pound the state’s secondary roads to their heart’s content. Were the Interstate limit raised to 100,000 lbs, the trucking industry would enjoy fuel efficiency improvements of 14-21% and emission reductions of 6-11%, according to a recently-completed report by the American Transportation Research Institute: Estimating Truck Fuel Consumption and Emissions in Maine. Safety and quality of life for rural residents would also be greatly improved.

“There would be a big difference in traffic patterns,” says Rob Elder, director of the Office of Freight and Business Services, Maine Department of Transportation. “If this proposal passes it will remove 7.5 million loaded truck miles from primary and secondary arterials to the Interstate system.”

This year, Senator Susan Collins wrote a pilot project provision for the 2010 Senate Transportation Appropriations Bill, which the Senate will vote on this fall. If this provision survives the vote, the Interstate limit will be raised to 100,000 lbs for one year.

“After the pilot project is over, the DoT will have to demonstrate that the traffic patterns have shifted, and pledge to maintain the (Interstate) at its current levels, which we do,” Elder explains.

The 80,000-lb cap causes plenty of grief for carriers coming from neighbouring states and Canada, where higher weight limits rule.

For example, Gosselin Express in Thetford Mines, Quebec, trundles around freight such as huge blocks of granite in Maine, mostly on its secondary highways, sometimes on the Interstate under special permit. According to Sylvain Poirier, Gosselin’s director of operations, the negative attributes of the secondary highways include, “curving roads, villages, two-lane highways, and we can’t travel at the speed limits.”

Quebec has two direct border crossings into Maine: Armstrong and Woburn.

A call to the Canadian Border Services Agency yielded the following facts: From Jan. 1, 2009 to Aug. 31, 2009 2,676 southbound trucks taking Quebec’s highway 73/173 crossed at Armstrong onto Maine’s Route 201.

At Woburn, the other Quebec- Maine crossing, 1,813 trucks taking highway 212 entered Maine onto Route 27 during the same period. Curious for hard facts about how the pilot might help Quebec carriers, I contacted Mark Bowie, president of ProMiles Canada. He kindly agreed to use one of ProMiles’ routing and mileage applications to analyze some trips in which carriers may prefer the Interstate over secondary roads.

I created eight trips: Three southbound trips from Quebec City to Bangor, Augusta and Houlton via Armstrong; three northbound trips from Portsmouth, on the New Hampshire state line to Bangor, Houlton and Quebec City.

The last two trips I created for southbound traffic via the 55, crossing at Stanstead onto Vermont’s 91, then swinging east at St. Johnsbury, VT toward Maine: They run from St. Johnsbury to Bangor and St. Johnsbury to Houlton.

A programmer built the trips on ProMiles XF Kingpin Version 14, which has address-to-address routing at street level. First, he ran each trip with the appropriate parts of the Interstate capped at 80,000 pounds GVW. Then he ran the trips with the GVW increased to 100,000 lbs.

The only trip that yielded no improvement between 80,000 lbs and 100,000 lbs in miles driven or gallons burned was Quebec City- Houlton: the 95 was 40 miles longer and used seven gallons more.

A look at the table for trips, roads and time results reveals that seven of the eight trips yield improved times. Truckers already know that using the Interstate more would reduce wear and tear on rigs and nerves.

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