PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Officially, the national weight limit for freight trucks on interstate highways is 40 tons. In reality, trucks are getting heavier in more states - legally - and advocates for highway safety and the trucking industry are sharply at odds about it.
Trucks heavier than 80,000 pounds are allowed to operate on federal highways in at least 20 states. Congress added Maine and Vermont to the list last week, granting exceptions to allow trucks up to 100,000 pounds on interstates there for the next 20 years. The change went into effect Friday when President Barack Obama
Critics say that heavier trucks make highways less safe because they're harder to control and stop, and that they leave taxpayers on the hook for damage to roads and bridges. Furthermore, they claim, the latest increases will spur the trucking industry to seek higher limits in other states.
"The trucking industry is energized by what's happened in Vermont and Maine," said Jackie Gillan, president of the
Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety organization. "The American public is going to pay with their lives and their wallets."
But supporters of higher weight limits argue that allowing heavier trucks will actually make highways safer because fewer trucks will be able to move the same amount of goods. With fewer big rigs rumbling around, it'll cut pollution and reduce the cost of doing business, they say. And concerns about road and bridge damage are overblown, they claim.
"Whatever arguments the opposition puts out there, if you look at the research, their arguments don't hold water," said Darrin Roth, director of highway operations at the American Trucking Associations.
Before the new law went into effect raising the weight limit in Maine, Douglas Haskell, a truck driver from Palermo, had to drive loads of cement powder along two-lane state highways - even with Interstate 95 nearby - for delivery to northern Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec.