The final fiscal 2010 transportation spending bill includes language allowing Maine and Vermont to conduct one-year pilot programs granting heavier six-axle trucks access to interstate highways within their borders. Maximum weight was set at 100,000 pounds in Maine and 120,000 pounds in Vermont. Current law bans trucks with a gross weight exceeding 80,000 pounds from federal interstate highways.
The American Trucking Association cheered this move as a step forward for road safety and for greener, more efficient transportation. They say these larger trucks will no longer have to drive on secondary roads that go through small towns, and that consolidating freight loads on fewer trucks saves money for shippers and produces lower greenhouse gas emissions than carrying the same load on several smaller trucks. Major trucking companies back legislation to let states allow six-axle trucks that weigh 97,000 pounds to 103,000 pounds travel on interstates within their borders.
Safety groups counter that heavier trucks will hasten the deterioration of interstate roads and bridges in Maine and Vermont while threatening the safety of other highway drivers because of the time it takes them to stop and the extra weight they are hauling. Environmentalists say bigger trucks are less fuel-efficient than smaller ones and the measure could increase trucks' road usage. Both support the existing limits, as do independent truckers, who generally cannot afford such big rigs, and freight railroads, which compete with the large trucking companies for business.
Should heavier trucks be permitted on interstate highways at all? If so, how much should they be allowed to weigh, and should other conditions be placed on them? What would be the impact on safety, fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions, the physical infrastructure, the trucking industry and the entire freight system?