Push to increase weights on Maine’s I-95 creates stir

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Interest groups are campaigning against efforts in Maine to increase Interstate 95’s 80,000-pound weight limit to 100,000 pounds between Augusta and Canada.

Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the New England chapter of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Parents Against Tired Truckers and the Truck Safety Coalition held a telephone press conference Sept. 13 to highlight the issue. The groups had written Gov. John Baldacci expressing concern that Maine’s congressional delegation, the state DOT and the trucking industry are working to change the current limit.

U.S. law requires an 80,000-pound limit on federal interstate roads, but states may set their own rules for state roads, and Maine’s state roads have a 100,000-pound limit.

The 1998 federal transportation funding bill included an exception to federal weight limits on the Maine Turnpike, on the premise that federal money did not maintain that stretch of I-95, according to the Maine Chamber of Commerce. Since then, the state’s congressional delegation, the chamber and other groups have tried to get an exemption for the rest of the interstate, which is federally maintained.

In the spring, arguments for the exemption heated up after a Bangor pedestrian was killed by a fuel truck that had been forced off I-95 and into residential neighborhoods because it was over 80,000 pounds.

The death prompted U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a Senate transportation committee member, to call for a hearing on the matter, Trucks forced off the interstate onto smaller roads are a safety problem, she said.

A 2004 Maine Transportation Department study said that trucks forced off I-95 increase their risk of causing fatalities tenfold, compared to trucks traveling the interstate.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, introduced a bill in March that would extend the weight exemption. Snowe introduced a similar bill in the Senate in 2005.

In May, Snowe and other members of the Maine delegation contacted the Federal Highway Administration, asking for support of such legislation.