The Senate late last week passed a bill containing a proposal by Sen. Susan Collins to allow 100,000 pound, six-axle trucks on Maine's I-95 in a one-year pilot program.

The measure must be reconciled with the House version of the transportation appropriations bill, which does not contain the increase. It's not clear if the Maine provision will survive.

The provision applies to the portion of the Maine Turnpike designated Route 95 and 495, and Interstate 95 from the southern end of the Maine Turnpike to the New Hampshire border. It also calls on the Secretary of Transportation to study the impact of the higher weights on safety, road durability, commerce and energy.

This sparked a full-throated outcry from the safety advocacy community.

In a letter to Senators, a coalition of advocates including Parents Against Tired Truckers, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and the Teamsters union, said the pilot program is part of an ongoing trucking industry strategy to raise the 80,000 pound national weight limit.

"This special interest provision was quietly inserted into this federal legislation without any public input and without any public hearings," said CRASH chair Joan Claybrook in a statement. "This is straight out of the trucking industry's playbook as they work in the shadows of the Capitol to pick off one state and then another as part of their nationwide strategy to bypass public scrutiny and overrun today's rules of the road."

In fact, Maine has been publicly pursuing this pilot project for years. "The truth is that Maine's Congressional delegation, our governor, the Maine Department of Transportation, the Maine Department of Public Safety, the Maine Better Transportation Association, and countless Maine municipalities, businesses and citizens all support the effort to increase the weight limit in Maine for many important reasons, public safety chief among them," said Dale Hanington, president and CEO of the Maine Motor Transport Association, in a letter to Senators.

Supporters of the pilot program say that it would improve safety by taking trucks off of secondary roads. It also would strengthen the state's ability to compete in the region: carriers in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Canada are authorized to carry up to 99,000 pounds, Hanington said. "Maine only seeks to be allowed an even playing field with those in our region so that we can compete economically," he said.