Sunday February 20, 2011 | 08:44 AM

Rep. Mike Michaud has formally unveiled legislation that would allow Maine and other states to decide whether to allow heavier trucks on interstates.

It is the latest salvo from a Maine lawmaker in the drive to allow trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to use all of the state's interstates. Currently, trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds can use only the Maine turnpike and must use side roads elsewhere around the state.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, authored a pilot program authorizing the heavier trucks to use all the interstates in Maine, but that expired in December. Collins, too, is pursuing legislation this year. Her bill is in concert with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and would exempt Maine and Vermont from truck weight restrictions. Collins and other advocates of lifting the weight restrictions note that New Hampshire and Massachusetts are among the states with exemptions, and they say forcing heavier trucks on side roads is dangerous and inefficient.

Some critics say heavier trucks are too hard on interstates, while others say heavier trucks shouldn't be allowed at all.

For his part, Michaud said this is an issue he has been working on for years. Recognizing that a number of states around the country face weight restrictions, he said his bill, co-authored with GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio, lets states decide for themselves whether they want to allow the heavier trucks on the interstates.

"Maine is not the only state affected by truck weight mismatches,” Michaud said in a statement. “In order to move forward on this issue, I have made this a national bill that would allow affected states like Maine to opt into an increase in truck weights in their states. States that do not want increased weights would not have to have anything forced on them. I recognize that what makes sense for Maine may not make sense for other places.”

Michaud hopes to see his proposal included in a highway bill that Congress may approve this year.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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