The bill, which would provide $122.1 billion in transportation, housing and development funding in 2010, was passed by the Senate in September, but had to be reconciled with the House version of the bill. It was unclear whether the Maine provision would survive. If the Senate approves the House's version, it would be send to the President for his signature.
The Maine/Vermont provision, Section 194, would allow 108,000 to 120,000-pound six-axle trucks to operate on interstate roads and bridges in Vermont and 100,000-pound six-axle trucks on all Maine Interstate highways. The current Vermont limit for truck weights is 80,000 pounds gross weight. In addition, trucks hauling certain commodities can be operated at up to 99,000 pounds.
"Vermont state policy and neighboring states' policies on truck weights have produced the reality that overweight trucks are here, and they will continue to operate in Vermont," said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who included the Vermont provision. "No one thinks that overweight trucks should rumble through our historic villages and downtowns on two-lane roads, putting people and our state's failing transportation infrastructure at risk. This step will get these trucks out of our downtowns in the short term. In the longer term it will help us determine, with real-world experience, whether it is safer and better for both our infrastructure and the environment to have these trucks use the Interstate system."
But safety advocates have been fighting the weight measure, saying that larger rigs damage interstate highways and threaten safety. Following Congress' recent activity, the Truck Safety Coalition, which is a partnership between the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) Foundation, and Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T), issued a press release, warning against the weight increases. The Truck Safety Coalition is aimed at reducing the number of deaths and injuries caused by truck-related crashes.
"Motorists in Maine and Vermont deserve more than being human guinea pigs in this dangerous experiment," said John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition. "A report back to Congress on the effectiveness of this one-year program isn't even due for two years, which leads us to believe that this experiment will likely continue until the report is issued and analyzed by Congress."
The bill requires Vermont to submit a report to Congress evaluating the effects of the pilot program on highway safety, bridge and road durability, commerce, truck volumes, and energy use.
The coalition says this legislation will further deteriorate Vermont's interstate highways and bridges by adding the extra weight. The group also pointed to crash statistics related to trucks, claiming that a truck weighing 80,000 pounds is 50 to 100 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a truck weighing 50,000 to 65,000 pounds.
"The public understands the dangers of driving on the roads with overweight trucks and the roadway and bridge damage caused by them all too well," said Lannen.