H.O. Bouchard Inc., a logging and trucking contractor based in Hampden, Maine, recently demonstrated the safety and other benefits of allowing heavier trucks on the state's interstate system, as part of a pilot project approved by Congress in December.

The pilot project raises the gross vehicle weight limit from 80,000 pounds to 100,000 pounds on Maine's I-95 for a 12-month period, provided trucks are equipped with a sixth axle, to keep braking capacity and road-wear the same.

Brian Bouchard, president and CEO, loaded two trucks to 99,800 pounds and measured their performance on two routes between Hampden and Houlton, Maine, a distance of about 120 miles. One truck traveled on the section of I-95 that connects the two towns; the other used the best available non-interstate route. Maine has allowed six-axle 100,000-pound trucks on state roads for over two decades.

Over the 120-mile route, the truck traveling local roads passed 86 pedestrian crosswalks, 30 street lights, nine school crossings, four hospitals, four railroad crossings, and 644 oncoming vehicles, Bouchard said. The truck using the interstate passed none of these.

The truck on the local roads shifted gears 192 times and applied brakes 68 times. The truck using the interstate shifted three times and applied brakes only once. It also completed the trip in two hours and five minutes on I-95, 50 minutes less than the other truck. Apart from the 10-gallon reduction in fuel and corresponding reduction in emissions, "the avoidance of risk and driver fatigue is huge," Bouchard said.

The federal Department of Transportation and the Maine DOT will both provide measurements of the safety, road wear, and environmental impacts of the 12-month pilot program at the halfway point, in June.

"I hope they are looking hard at the benefits of allowing the Interstate system to carry the loads it was designed to carry," Bouchard said. "Weight reform is a winner for trucking efficiency but an even bigger winner for public safety. Maine manufacturing industries need this to be competitive in the global economy."