Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine proposed new legislation seeking to open interstate highways to trucks carrying larger loads. The legislation will allow trucks with six-axles weighing up to 100,000 pounds to use interstate highways. Snowe explained that current federal restrictions on interstate highways are an example of bureaucratic regulations causing “safety hazards on secondary roads” and increased risk for trucking accidents.
National weight standards apply to commercial vehicles on the limited access, divided highways that make up the Interstate Highway System. Currently, the maximum gross weight for commercial vehicles on the Interstate Highway System is 80,000 pounds.
States may set their own weight standards on state and local roads. The Illinois maximum weight for state and local roads is 80,000 pounds, unless posted with a lower limit. But 27 other states allow maximum loads of up to 100,000 pounds on state and local roads. Trucks using the Interstate Highway System in these states must unload cargo or use secondary roads through smaller communities.
The Commercial Truck Safety Act would allow a state to seek a waiver of the federal weight standards. The bill would create three-year pilot exemptions on a state-by-state basis. Each state would establish a safety committee to determine whether the waiver should become permanent.
Maine recently completed a one-year pilot program allowing heavier trucks to use Maine’s interstates. Snowe noted that during the pilot program 14 fewer trucking accidents occurred compared with the previous year and no fatalities were reported involving the heavier tractor-trailer trucks.
The Maine Department of Transportation found that allowing heavier trucks on the Interstate Highway System increased traffic safety, improved the environment and reduced fuel consumption (interstates being more direct routes than secondary roads). Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, described the concept as “not a bad idea.”