BANGOR, Me. — A pilot project allowing truck weights of 100,000 lbs on interstate highways in Maine may have run its course with no indications it will be expanded or made permanent.
The House of Representatives last night passed a funding bill that did not include a provision to make the higher weights permanent or even to extend the pilot project. The bill, known as a Continuing Resolution, provides funding for essential programs through Sept. 30, 2011.
US Senator Susan Collins, a proponent of heavier truck weights on Maine interstates, expressed disappointment that the bill was passed without extending the pilot project.
“I am so disappointed that the House has passed a Continuing Resolution that does not include either a permanent fix or an extension of the current pilot program,” she said. “Given the time constraints and voting rules in the Senate, it is unlikely that we can restore the truck weights language that the House took out, thus jeopardizing the fate of what has been a successful pilot project.”
Unless the program receives an unexpected lifeline, the 100,000-lb weight limit will be removed on Dec. 18, forcing heavy truck traffic back onto secondary roads.
“Permanently allowing the heaviest trucks to use federal interstate highways in Maine has always been one of my top priorities,” Collins said. “The pilot project, that I authored, has clearly provided economic, energy, and environmental benefits and has made our secondary roads and many downtowns safer. That is why the President agreed to my request to include a provision to make the pilot project permanent in his proposed CR.”
A study by the Maine Department of Transportation found that a truck travelling from Hampden to Houlton on I-95 saved 50 minutes per trip as opposed to taking secondary roads, saving about US$30 per trip in fuel. It also avoided more than 270 intersections and nine school crossings by using the Interstate route.
Another study found that increasing Interstate truck weights would prevent three fatal crashes per year from occurring in communities located along the secondary highways.
In a less scientific study, trucker Brian Bouchard, president and CEO of H.O. Bouchard, loaded two trucks to 99,800 lbs and measured their performance between Hampden and Houlton, Me. over two routes: I-95 and the non-Interstate route where heavier weights were already permitted.
On the 120-mile run, the truck travelling on state highways passed 86 pedestrian crosswalks, 30 street lights, nine school crossings, four hospitals, four railroad crossings and 644 oncoming vehicles. The Interstate route, by contrast, had zero of each.
Also, the state highway route required 192 gear shifts and 68 brake applications while the Interstate route required just three shifts and one brake application, Bouchard confirmed. The Interstate route required 10 gallons less fuel as well.
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