U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) introduced legislation July 29 to ease Interstate commerce and enhance safety on highways and secondary roads. The Commercial Truck Safety Act would eliminate what Snowe calls “an inequitable government regulation” permitting six-axle trucks weighing up to 100,000 lbs. to travel on some states’ Interstate highways and not others.

In 27 states, trucks up to 100,000 lbs. can travel on Interstate highways, but in states like Maine, trucks weighing more than 80,000 lbs. must either unload cargo or travel to their destination on winding secondary roads through numerous small towns and communities, according to the senator.

“The current treatment of truck weights on Interstate highways is a glaring example of a bureaucratic regulation creating both safety hazards on secondary roads and tangible barriers to job growth at a time when the nation’s unemployment rate is stuck above 9% and Maine’s mill towns are struggling to thrive,” said Snowe, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and a senior member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over truck safety issues.

During a recent pilot program allowing six-axle trucks up to 100,000 lbs. on Maine’s Interstates, there were 14 fewer crashes compared to the previous year and no fatalities involving six-axle trucks. The pilot program expired at the end of 2010.

The Commercial Truck Safety Act would end the need for states to seek individual weight limit exemptions from Congress by granting states like Maine the authority to petition U.S. Dept. of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for a permanent waiver. The legislation would authorize LaHood to institute a three-year pilot program waiving the weight limit and requiring the creation of a safety committee. The committee, composed of engineers, safety advocates, and highway users, would report to the secretary at the end of the pilot program to determine whether the exemption should become permanent.

At a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on March 8, 2011, Snowe said she proposed the idea of granting waiver authority to LaHood. The secretary agreed the approach could rightfully be addressed in a comprehensive transportation reauthorization bill, Snowe said.