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Plan to Open Maine I-95 Above Augustusta to Overweight Tractor-Trailer Rigs Will Endanger Public Safety and Infrastructure

Sept. 13, 2006

Plan to Open Maine I-95 Above Augusta to Overweight Tractor-Trailer Rigs Will Endanger Public Safety and Infrastructure

Maine DOT Colludes With the Trucking Industry at the Expense of Maine’s Citizens

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Maine Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) plan to open the portion of Interstate 95 from Augusta to the Canadian border to extra-heavy, 100,000-pound 6-axle and 88,000-pound 5-axle combination trucks will be a threat to public safety and Maine’s roads and bridges, according to a coalition of national, regional and local truck safety and public interest groups.

In a telephone press conference today, 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 detailed the contents of a letter sent to Maine Gov. John Baldacci to express concern about MDOT and the trucking industry’s misleading campaign to convince Maine’s citizens that they will be safer by giving gigantic trucks free reign of the state’s roads.

For many years, Maine has allowed overweight tractor-trailer rigs in increasing numbers on all of the state’s highways and streets, including local township roads. In the mid-1990s, Maine permitted 100,000-pound 6-axle and 88,000-pound 5-axle combination trucks to use the Maine Turnpike portion of I-95, claiming that it would divert truck traffic from community streets and country roads. After being challenged by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Maine secured a special exception through Congress.

Despite the move, truck traffic has grown each year on Maine’s streets and roads. MDOT predicts a more than 50 percent increase in heavy truck volume in the state by 2020. MDOT’s new plan would open Maine’s full Interstate to the larger, more dangerous class of trucks. There are no legislative or regulatory proposals under consideration to prevent these trucks from continuing to speed through non-interstate roads and neighborhood streets, putting both drivers and pedestrians at risk. Several major federal studies have shown that trucks larger than the maximum 80,000-pound trucks currently allowed by federal law and regulation have a greater risk of crashes.

Instead of working with Maine’s citizens and safety groups for safer roads, MDOT has been collaborating since June with state and national trucking interests in a coordinated public relations campaign to push for heavier trucks statewide. MDOT Commissioner David Cole and two senior MDOT officials participated in a two-day, Washington, D.C., lobbying junket planned by the Maine Motor Transport Association (MMTA) and the American Trucking Associations (ATA). They received industry-prepared talking points about the need for 100,000-pound trucks on the entire length of Maine’s interstate system and were wined and dined in a Washington restaurant by MMTA and a reception at ATA’s Capitol Hill lobbying offices.

Trucking interests have sought to mislead Maine’s citizens and public servants into believing that allowing gigantic trucks on Maine’s entire federal interstate system will result in the trucks no longer using local roads. But in fact, overweight trucks will endanger drivers on all of Maine’s roads and will continue to cause costly damage to the state’s roads and bridges. The repercussions could also be national, as the trucking industry hopes to leverage the decision in Maine to gain access for 100,000-pound tractor-trailer rigs to roads in every state.

“Maine’s citizens and political representatives have not been told the truth about the significant safety risks, infrastructure damage and costs of allowing overweight trucks on the Interstate. And they have been misled into thinking big trucks will disappear from local roads if allowed on the full Interstate. This is untrue,” said Public Citizen president Joan Claybrook. “If the trucking industry gets what it wants, Maine families will be threatened by these behemoth trucks wherever they walk or drive.”

“Extra-heavy, giant trucks on Maine’s highways directly threaten public safety because some of Maine’s interstate bridges are being severely overstressed to the point of failure,” said Jerry Donaldson, the director of research at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “According to the FHWA, there are seven interstate bridges that could suffer major failures if bigger trucks are allowed on I-95.”

Maine has a huge backlog of road and bridge repairs documented by the state legislature and MDOT. The state is ignoring the safety of its citizens by going ahead with a plan that would result in further deterioration and destruction by the trucking industry. Maine already has the highest state gas tax in the region – increasing truck weights would be a stealth tax on Maine families, as more revenue would be needed to repair the damage done by larger trucks or the roads and bridges will continue to degrade. 

“The state’s arguments are unconvincing and unsupported by the facts,” said Maine resident Steve Izer, who also sent a letter today urging MDOT’s Commissioner Cole to stop the plan to force overweight trucks on the northern part of I-95. Izer is co-founder with his wife Daphne of Parents Against Tired Truckers. “As a family who has paid the ultimate price of losing a child in a trucking accident, I don’t want another family to go through the pain Daphne and I have because of government inaction to ensure truck safety.”