WASHINGTON – The heaviest trucks rumbling through Maine would be allowed back on all Maine interstates under legislation to be announced today by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.

Snowe’s bill is the latest attempt by a member of the Maine delegation to allow trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to use all the state’s interstate highways. Currently, trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds are restricted to secondary roads except for the Maine Turnpike from Kittery to Augusta.

The Maine Republican’s bill would allow states to bypass Congress and seek individual waivers of the interstate restrictions from the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

The bill would allow the secretary to establish three-year pilot exemptions on a state-by-state basis. Each participating state would be required to establish a safety committee to determine whether the waiver should become permanent.

“Trucks belong on the highway,” said Snowe, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, adding that the “current treatment of truck weights on interstate highways is a glaring example of a bureaucratic regulation creating both safety hazards on secondary roads and tangible barriers to job growth.”

In a number of states, through a confusing patchwork of state and federal laws and exemptions, trucks of more than 80,000 pounds already can travel on interstates. Snowe, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, want to extend that status to Maine.

A Michaud bill allowing heavier trucks on interstates in Maine and other states has 51 co-sponsors in the House — including U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District — and was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, with co-sponsors that include Collins.

A Maine Department of Transportation report last fall concluded allowing trucks on all interstates would “increase traffic safety, improve the environment, increase business competitiveness and reduce transportation infrastructure costs at no cost to the taxpayer.”

Last December, a one-year federal pilot program allowing the heavier trucks to use all Maine’s interstates lapsed.

Collins, top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s transportation subcommittee, authored the pilot program and earlier this year introduced a bill to make it permanent.

Snowe noted that during the pilot program, there were 14 fewer truck crashes compared with the previous year.

The U.S. Department of Transportation declined to comment Thursday on Snowe’s proposal. However, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood earlier this year described the concept as “not a bad idea” during a Senate hearing.

The major opponents include the railroad industry and several key lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

The truck weight legislation would most likely be added to a pending renewal of a broader surface transportation bill. But in a year where the debt-ceiling debate and fiscal concerns have dominated discussion, there is no guarantee a final transportation bill will be passed soon.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

jrisk[email protected]