AUGUSTA – Recently, one of my kids challenged me to help her with a homework assignment: Write as many sentences as possible that include the term “on the one hand — on the other hand” to illustrate two opposite ways of thinking about the same situation.

This assignment reminded me of something I have been heavily involved in at work — the Maine truck weight pilot project.

Maine passed legislation in the 1980s to allow for increased truck productivity on state roads because the log drives in rivers were stopped for environmental reasons, and the railroads had discontinued nonprofitable lines that ran into the more remote regions.

This effort produced the legislation that allowed our current state weight limits.

On the one hand, increased truck traffic on Maine’s highways kept our state’s economy moving, but on the other it improved the environmental impact on Maine’s rivers by discontinuing the log drives. So, a solution was found that helped keep our roads safe.

The Federal Highway Administration then froze interstate highway weight limits at a lower limit than those allowed on Maine roads, but recognized our economic dependence on our natural resources and grandfathered the Maine Turnpike and southern potions of I-95 to New Hampshire.

While this was helpful, it left a gaping hole from Augusta to Bangor and left the coastal communities along Route 1 to continue to have to deal with heavy truck traffic through their downtown areas.

On the one hand, we are fortunate to have parts of the southern Maine interstate system that allow heavier trucks; on the other hand, these trucks are diverted to secondary roads north of Augusta and are sent through downtowns like Yarmouth, Freeport and Brunswick due to logistical realities along I-295.

Many groups joined together to correct this misguided absurdity, from truckers to oil dealers and forest products industries to many local and regional chambers of commerce and numerous municipalities.

The issue also garnered unanimous bipartisan support in the Maine Legislature as well as backing from transportation and public safety groups.

On the one hand, those who are directly impacted by the issue are united and focused on the commonsense solution; on the other hand, this is an unfortunate example of the federal government dictating what they think is best.

Enter Maine’s congressional delegation. Since the beginning, we have not sent a single representative to Washington who did not support a federal exemption for Maine’s interstates, including our current senators and representatives — they all deserve our sincere appreciation for continuing to keep this issue at the forefront.

Strong support from Sen. Susan Collins and her consistent dedication to this issue has brought us closer to a permanent solution. She is working to include a permanent fix for Maine’s conundrum in a continuing resolution that must soon pass. President Obama and many key leaders on Capitol Hill support this as a result of Sen. Collins’ persistence.

On the one hand, the safety of Maine’s roads is markedly improved, the environment is substantially better off, Maine’s competitive disadvantage with neighboring states is vastly improved and more Maine jobs are protected by the resulting economic benefits. In this case, there is no “on other hand.”

The Maine DOT recently released a white paper supporting this contention by indicating that “bridges will need replacement or rehabilitation due to general deterioration before they ever approach their fatigue life.”

Anti-trucking groups argue that the proposed truck configuration is less safe just by its nature, but evidence proves fewer interactions would occur with oncoming vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles. They also completely discount the giant strides that have been made in truck safety technology and the additional braking capacity that would be added.

On the one hand, opponents try to use erroneous arguments based on emotion; on the other hand the undisputable fact of the matter is that the interstate system was designed to handle this type of truck configuration and is the safest and most efficient place for them to travel.

My family frequently travels highways, especially I-295 from Brunswick to Portland, which would greatly benefit from a permanent exemption allowing bigger trucks.

Nothing means more to me than the safety of my wife and our amazing children and I would never jeopardize their safety for anything.

Once we can permanently divert commercial truck traffic from our secondary roads to the interstate highway system where they belong, all of Maine will be safer.

 

– Special to The Press Herald