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U.S. Senate Vote Imminent on Deadly and Destructive Overweight Truck Exemption - Federal Agency's Dire Warning Ignored on Allowing 100,000 Pound Trucks on Maine's Roads and Bridges
Date:9/11/2009

Special interest provision quietly inserted in federal transportation budget bill without public input or congressional hearings

Public health and safety groups warn of increased deaths and injuries, medical costs, road and bridge damage, and domino effect throughout Northeast USA if big rig provision passes.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Consumer, health, safety, environment and truck driver organizations were joined by the families of truck crash victims today to issue a warning to the motoring public about a trucking industry-backed provision in legislation coming to the U.S. Senate floor this week that would allow tractor-trailers to exceed the 80,000 pound federal truck size and weight limit on Maine's interstate highways.

The Governor and trucking industry in Vermont have been seeking the same exemptions in their state, and are watching the congressional vote closely with hopes that it will open the door for federal truck weight exemptions to allow overweight trucks up to 100,000 pound trucks to operate in their state and throughout the northeast. Concerns are that national and state trucking interests in other Northeast and mid-Atlantic states will use this congressional action as a springboard for seeking a congressional repeal of the federal truck weight exemption in other states and nationwide.

"This special interest provision was quietly inserted into this federal legislation without any public input and without any public hearings," said Joan Claybrook, chair of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH). "This is straight out of the trucking industry's playbook as they work in the shadows of the Capitol to pick off one state and then another as part of their nationwide strategy to bypass public scrutiny and overrun today's rules of the road."

In a letter to members of the U.S. Senate today, the health and safety advocates cautioned that the exemption "is only a pretext for permanently raising the weight limit to 100,000 pounds on Maine's I-95 interstate and in other states, making that highway even more treacherous."

Spearheaded by CRASH, the Truck Safety Coalition, Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.), Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Environment America, Environment Maine, Vermonters for a Clean Environment, the Trauma Society, Consumer Federation of America, and Connecticut Nurses Association, the coalition warned that:

  • Bigger trucks lead to more deaths, injuries, and road and bridge damage,
  • Maine has serious road and bridge safety issues, and that overweight trucks could result in a catastrophic bridge collapse similar to the I-35 bridge tragedy in Minnesota, and
  • The motoring public is unfairly subsidizing heavy trucking as the expense of a balanced and safe transportation system.

Each year, nearly 5,000 people are killed and tens of thousands are injured in truck crashes in the United States. "This special interest exemption is for and about the trucking industry in Maine," said Daphne Izer, a Lisbon Falls, Maine, resident who founded Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.) after her son and several of his friends were killed in a crash caused by a tractor-trailer driver in Maine. "But, this is not just about public safety in Maine. If enacted, this bill will have a domino effect throughout our region that will lead to more deaths and injuries and far greater damage to our bridges and roads. The American public will pay with their lives and their wallets if Congress adopts this provision."

If the U.S. Senate approves the transportation appropriations bill with the truck size and weight exemption, it will go up against the Fiscal Year 2010 Department of Transportation bill (HR 3288) in the U.S. House which does not contain the Maine exemption. The House bill was introduced by Congressman John Olver (D-1-Massachusetts), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, who will help lead House-Senate negotiations this month to work out differences between the two measures.

BELOW IS TEXT OF LETTER SENT TODAY TO U.S. SENATE FROM HEALTH AND SAFETY COALITION. The letter also will be available at www.trucksafety.org:

Maine overweight truck exemption will affect every state and will increase deaths, injuries, health care costs, and road and bridge damage

September 10, 2009

Dear Senator:

Consumer, health and safety advocates as well as families of truck crash victims and survivors are strongly opposed to a special interest provision included in the Fiscal Year 2010 DOT-HUD Appropriations bill that jeopardizes public health and safety. Section 194 provides a one-year exemption for all Interstate highways in Maine from the 80,000 pound federal truck size and weight limits. The provision is only a pretext for permanently raising the weight limit to 100,000 pounds on the last portion of Maine's I-95 interstate, forever making that segment of highway even more treacherous.

Every year, nearly 5,000 people are killed and tens of thousands more sustain severe, crippling and costly injuries in truck crashes. This special interest exemption directly threatens the lives of everyone using Maine's Interstates and, if enacted, will have regional and nationwide ramifications leading to increased deaths and injuries and accelerated destruction of our nation's infrastructure.

Exempting Maine from Federal Law Affects Other States.

One of the top priorities of trucking interests is to increase truck sizes and weights throughout the United States. Historically, the strategy of the trucking industry has been to ratchet up truck weights by pressuring state after state to increase their weight limits, eventually forcing Congress to open the entire federal Interstate System to higher, more dangerous, and more destructive truck sizes and weights.

This same strategy is being used today. If the Senate gives Maine a special-interest exemption from federal law this will be used by powerful trucking interests to leverage the expansion of the exemption to other New England states, down through the rest of the eastern United States and eventually throughout the entire country. In fact, the Governor of Vermont has already indicated that he wants to be next in line for a special interest truck weight exemption if Maine gets one. This will inevitably lead to a demand by trucking interests for Congress to compel other states to accept the bigger, heavier trucks by pre-empting their size and weight limits.

Bigger Trucks Lead to Bigger Damage and Bigger Dangers.

This anti-safety provision should never be enacted, particularly at a time when there has been no significant progress in reducing truck crash deaths and our current road and bridge infrastructure is in such a serious state of deterioration. Since 1994, over 60,000 people have died in truck crashes averaging about 5,000 fatalities each year. Overweight trucks impose excessive damage and are more dangerous to motorists. In fatal crashes involving a large truck and passenger vehicle, 98 percent of the deaths occur to the passenger vehicle occupants. Allowing even bigger and heavier trucks with longer stopping distances and other safety problems will only contribute to more deaths and injuries on our roads and highways.

Maine Has Serious Road and Bridge Problems -- Overweight Trucks Could Result in a Catastrophic Bridge Collapse Similar to the I-35 Bridge Tragedy.

Maine has a chronic backlog of unmet highway needs. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Maine "D- grade" in 2009 for its roads and bridges -- 36% of Maine's bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete and 29% of Maine's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition. Allowing overweight trucks up to 100,000 pounds on the remaining portion of I-95 north of Augusta, Maine, could trigger a major bridge collapse on the magnitude of the 2007 disaster of the I-35 bridge in Minnesota involving 100 vehicles, killing 13 and injuring nearly a hundred people including 22 children. Maine has been warned by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that several interstate bridges are fracture-critical under the very high gross weights that the state is allowing on old Interstate bridges, and that hundreds of other Maine bridges are being stressed with the excessive weight of 100,000-pound trucks. In fact, Maine has instituted a critical "Watch List" of bridges, many of them on the state's Interstate highways that will need to be traffic restricted and posted for lower weights. The state's bridge engineers estimate that Maine only has 50 percent of the money it needs to repair its badly deteriorated bridges. A review of Maine's bridges provided for Congressional use show that almost three-quarters of Maine's Interstate bridges are overstressed at the higher truck gross weights that Maine officials want for the remaining part of I-95. In fact, FHWA judged that at least seven of these Interstate bridges could be stressed beyond yield point and fail. This special interest provision unnecessarily jeopardizes the safety of motorists while threatening more widespread, rapid destruction of roads and bridges. No one thought such a tragedy could happen in Minnesota. It could happen in Maine.

Heavy Trucking Subsidies Threaten a Balanced Transportation System.

Maine's approach to freight transportation needs contradicts national freight policy proposals to create a more balanced, multi-modal system for moving goods. Attempts to increase truck traffic and rely on greater truck tonnage are in direct conflict with Obama Administration policies that promote efficient freight movement by emphasizing highway preservation, fuel conservation, reduced emissions, and safety. A 2002 Maine legislative task force report concluded that heavy trucks in Maine were receiving a public subsidy that was helping to undermine the rail transportation system of the state, while the state was shifting the burden of paying for road and bridge damage and repair to passenger vehicles. In fact, Maine's former Transportation Commissioner, John Melrose, admitted, in an article published in February, 2006, that Maine has gone overboard with highway freight movement by large trucks and now has a lack of rail alternatives to support the region's economy and link the state's cities.

The opportunity to save lives and reduce medical and health care costs is in your hands. We urge you to remove Section 194.

Sincerely,

    Daphne Izer, Founder
    Parents Against Tired Truckers
    Lisbon, Maine

    John Lannen, Executive Director
    Truck Safety Coalition
    Arlington, Virginia

    Jacqueline Gillan, Vice President
    Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
    Washington, DC

    Joan Claybrook, Chair
    Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways
    Washington, DC

    Fred McLuckie, Legislative Director
    International Brotherhood of Teamsters
    Washington, DC

    Rob McCulloch, Transportation Advocate
    Environment America
    Washington, DC

    Andrew McGuire, Executive Director
    Trauma Foundation
    San Francisco, California

    Jack Gillis, Director of Public Affairs
    Consumer Federation of America
    Washington, DC

    James Corless, Director
    Transportation for America
    Washington, DC

    Janette Fennell, Founder and President
    KidsAndCars.org
    Leawood, Kansas

    Katie Kokkinos, State Associate
    Environment Maine
    Portland, Maine

    Annette Smith, Executive Director
    Vermonters for a Clean Environment
    Danby, Vermont

    Jan Jarrett, President & CEO
    Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture)
    Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

    Mike Davis, President
    Brain Injury Association of West Virginia
    Institute, West Virginia

    Carole Bergeron PhD, RN, Executive Director
    Connecticut Nurses' Association
    Meriden, Connecticut

    Jane Mathis, Board Member
    Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.)
    St. Augustine, Florida

    Jennifer Tierney, Board Member and Director
    North Carolina Survivors Network
    Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH)
    Kernersville, North Carolina

    Jeff Burns, Board Member
    Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.)
    Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH)
    Kansas City, Missouri


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SOURCE Truck Safety Coalition
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