Members of Maine’s congressional delegation and the state’s trucking industry were expressing disappointment and surprise today, after learning that a funding bill passed late Wednesday in the House of Representatives omitted a provision to allow heavier trucks on the Interstate.

It was unclear today whether the provision has any chance of being restored when the funding bill is taken up in the Senate.

A one-year pilot program that lets trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds on federal highways in Maine and Vermont expires Dec. 18. Maine politicians, including U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Michael Michaud, have been pushing to make the provision permanent.

Supporters say the pilot program has been successful in keeping big trucks off downtown roads and secondary highways, such as Route 1. It also saves energy by moving more goods on fewer trips and speeds freight delivery, they say.

The permanent extension won support this fall from President Obama. But the plan also has influential opponents. They include highway safety advocates, who see Maine and Vermont’s exemption as providing momentum to bills that would increase weight limits nationwide. The current weight limit on federal highways is 80,000 pounds.

Maine’s pilot program has faced opposition from powerful senators including Barbara Boxer, D-California, and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. They want to keep longer and heavier trucks off Interstate highways.

Freight railroads also oppose expanded truck weights, saying it would hurt their business.

Truck weights are a big issue away from southern Maine. Heavier trucks can travel the Maine Turnpike, which is a private toll highway, but must exit in Gardiner and traverse smaller, secondary roads.

“I am so disappointed that the House has passed a continuing resolution that does not include either a permanent fix of an extension of the current pilot program,” Collins said in a statement.

That view was echoed by Brian Parke, president of the Maine Motor Transport Association.

“We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to make it happen,” he said. “It makes sense for Maine.”

The issue has been a top priority for Michaud, who has co-sponsored legislation that aims to increase truck weights on the Interstate system. Michaud voted against the House funding bill on Wednesday, in part because it lacked the truck weight extension.

“It’s been an uphill battle from the beginning,” said Ed Gilman, his spokesman.

Staff writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or
[email protected]