Dangerous Maine and Vermont Overweight Truck Weight Exemption Passed by Senate Subcommittee

Full Appropriations Committee to Consider Bill Tomorrow

Sep 20, 2011, 17:13 ET from Truck Safety Coalition

LISBON, Maine and ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 20, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Daphne Izer, founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.) after her son Jeff and three of his friends were killed in a truck crash, and the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC) find today's actions by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies in passing a bill that gives Maine and Vermont a permanent exemption to federal truck weight limits irresponsible and with complete disregard for the safety of families sharing the road with these overweight trucks.  P.A.T.T. and TSC urge the full Appropriations Committee to drop this special interest provision and pass an appropriations bill tomorrow that advances safety instead of the economic agenda of the trucking industry.

"The Subcommittee had the opportunity to save lives and protect our nation's infrastructure investments. Instead the bill includes a 'corporate giveaway' for the trucking industry.  The Maine and Vermont truck weight exemptions give this bill a black eye and directly conflicts with the priorities listed in the press release of ensuring safety," said Joan Claybrook, Chair of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH).

When this special interest provision was passed as a pilot project in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010, it included a requirement for an evaluation of the pilot program and report to Congress.  This mandate has not yet been fulfilled and Congress does not know the safety and infrastructure consequences.  Uninformed, the Subcommittee pushed through a permanent exemption.  

The TSC was able to obtain limited information about the pilot project impacts by sending a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and a Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) request to the Maine Department of Transportation which revealed: "FHWA has concluded that the margin of bridge safety is reduced on Maine and Vermont Interstate Highways where the heavier vehicles operate.  The use of heavier axle loadings on the Interstate highways in Maine and Vermont will reduce the pavement life, especially with an increase in the number of heavy trucks and the allowance for axle loadings that exceed current federal standards."

This documented damage does not even take into account the devastating effects caused by Hurricane Irene.  The overall damage to Vermont's federal-aid highways is estimated to be between $300 and 500 million.  Part of Route 4, the main East-West road through Central Vermont and 35 bridges including at least 4 historic covered bridges were swept away.  In Maine, nearly 200 roads and a dozen bridges were washed out or destroyed. Even before the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) reported that 36% of Maine's bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete and 29% of its major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.  Similarly, 39% of Vermont's bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete and 40% of its major roads are in poor or mediocre condition. "These are some of the worst road and bridge conditions in the country, and these permanent exemptions will make traveling even less safe," said John Lannen, Executive Director of the TSC.

The Subcommittee's action conflicts with the rhetoric in the press release about cutting spending in a responsible way.  In fact, the Maine and Vermont truck exemption will cost the public dearly, both with their lives and their wallets. The FHWA reported that the Maine/Vermont pilot projects will force the cost burden of bridge safety investigations and maintenance, highway pavement repair and the need for more enforcement, including weigh-in-motion sensors, to be shifted to the federal government and all federal taxpayers.  "…the real effect i[s] that it is in the state's interest to shift the responsibility of repairing bridge and pavement damage from the State to the Federal government. . . . In my opinion it is the wrong solution." ("A Side-By-Side Analysis of Maine's Interstate Bridges," FHWA)

A major argument used by the trucking industry for the weight increase is that it will result in fewer trucks on the roads.  However, historically every time Congress has passed a weight increase, truck traffic continues to increase.  Travel by combination vehicles, the dominant vehicle for large-scale freight movement, more than doubled, increasing from 102 percent from 1980 to 2002.  In fact, the amount of commercial truck travel in the U.S. is increasing faster than all other vehicle travel and is expected to increase significantly by 2020.  The [Pilot Project] 6-Month Report stated, "A preliminary analysis of Vermont weigh-in-motion data shows an 8 percent jump in volume of trucks on both the Interstate route and the corresponding State route."

"The trucking industry is misleading the public with their phony assertions that 100,000 lb. trucks on Interstates will make our local roads safer.  These trucks should not be allowed on any roads.  Overweight trucks are more deadly and more destructive.  I urge the Senate Appropriations Committee to stand up and protect the safety of our families who will be forced to drive alongside behemoth trucks that threaten their safety," stated Daphne Izer, P.A.T.T. founder.  

Every year on average, approximately 4,000 people are killed and 100,000 more sustain injuries in truck-involved crashes. In two-vehicle crashes, between a large truck and a passenger vehicle, 97 percent of the deaths were occupants of the passenger vehicle. Bigger, heavier trucks take longer to stop and are more prone to roll over.

SOURCE Truck Safety Coalition