Cozy Relationship Between Maine DOT and Trucking Industry Jeopardizes Safety

Sept. 13, 2006

Cozy Relationship Between Maine DOT and Trucking Industry Jeopardizes Safety

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen*

I’d like to welcome everyone participating in today’s press conference. We’re here to raise an alert about a plan to open Maine’s full Interstate highway to overweight and dangerous tractor-trailer rigs – we’re talking about very large 100,000-pound 6-axle trucks and 88,000-pound 5-axle trucks. Maine DOT and state and national trucking interests are seeking an exemption from the federal law that places the maximum allowable limit for trucks on the Interstate at 80,000 pounds.

With me today are:

– Jerry Donaldson, the director of research at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety;

– Daphne and Steve Izer, Maine residents and the co-founders and directors of Parents Against       Tired Truckers (PATT);

– Virginia Robnett, the New England field organizer with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG);

– Guy Bourrie, a Maine resident and truck driver;

– James RePass, the founder of the National Corridors Initiative; and

– John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, a coalition of victims of truck crashes.

We have major concerns about this proposal by the Maine DOT for reasons we will discuss this morning. To start, I want to raise concerns because Maine DOT and the trucking industry have not been telling the truth when they say that opening up Maine’s Interstate to these super-sized trucks will get them off of local roads and streets.

Maine DOT has a cozy relationship with the Maine Motor Transport Association, the state lobbying arm of the national American Trucking Associations. The agency that is directed to regulate the safety of truck operations on behalf of Mainecitizens is becoming a mouthpiece of the industry. 

In May 2006, the Maine DOT Commissioner and two additional officials flew down to D.C. to lobby Congress arm-in-arm with the Maine Motor Transport Association and the American Trucking Associations. 

One has to ask why a national trucking organization has such an interest in Maine?   It’s very simple.   Maine is part of the trucking industry’s overall strategy to leverage bigger, heavier, longer and more dangerous trucks on every road throughout the United States. 

Using Maine DOT officials is part of the plan. They wine and dine state officials and get them to carry the message to Congress so they don’t have to do their own bidding.

Maine DOT officials, at taxpayer expense, traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress in support of a “special interest exemption” to federal law that would allow overweight trucks to travel on all federal Interstate highways in Maine.

The lobbying junket was organized by the Maine Motor Transport Association, which spoon-fed Maine state officials with the arguments they needed.

Trucking interests even negotiated room rates for the Maine DOT officials.  However, these negotiated room rates still exceeded the permissible room allowance for the Maine DOT employees.  (In May the room allowance for a Maine DOT employee is $180 before taxes; $180 + Washington DC hotel tax rate 14.5% = $206.10.  The hotel room rate for two MDOT employees – Savoy & Cole – were $262.21 each and for Mr. Williams the room rate was $393.88.) Who footed the extra bill – Maine citizens or the trucking industry?

Three Maine DOT officials were part of the truck lobbying team and were listed by name as members of the lobbying delegation. Even though they were only blocks away, they never even took the time to talk with the nonprofit, public interest, highway and truck safety organizations. In fact, they have never even bothered to contact one of the most important truck safety groups, Parents Against Tired Truckers, founded by Maine residents, Steve and Daphne Izer.

The Maine Motor Transport Association prepared the lobbying talking points and lobbying packets for Maine DOT employees to use in their visits, and Maine DOT contributed to the industry packet by providing a truck route graphic and preparing a two-page summary of a Maine DOT report.

The lobbying trip itinerary prepared by Maine Motor Transport Association for Maine DOT officials included “wining and dining” at the ATA townhouse steps from the U.S. Capitol; an ATA-sponsored breakfast meeting with the Maine congressional delegation; and a dinner with business leaders hosted by the Maine Motor Transport Association at a Washington, D.C. restaurant. 

The cost billed to Maine taxpayers for expenses not paid for by the MMTA came to over $2,100 (not including per diem meal expenses) for a one-night lobbying trip.

According to documents from the Maine Motor Transport Association, “Maine DOT has and will continue to work very closely with the Delegation members and trucking industry representatives to influence changes to the applicable federal laws.”

Maine citizens will pay the price for this lobbying junket – less safety, more deaths, increased gasoline taxes, more damaged roads. All Americans will pay too, if the trucking interests can leverage Maine’s actions to get 100,000-pound vehicles on all state Interstate highways.

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