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Michael Michaud

Those from away don't quite seem to get it
By Representative Mike Michaud
Aug 25, 2010 - 12:13:40 AM

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Last year, I introduced a bill called the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA), which would allow Maine and other states to increase the weight of trucks allowed on their interstate systems in order to make them consistent with surrounding states. And I am pleased to report that Republican Senator Mike Capo of Idaho introduced the Senate version of my bill on August 4th and that Senator Susan Collins cosponsored it.

While the House bill has shown momentum with 54 members of Congress adding their name to it from across the country, some people still don't quite seem to understand what we are trying to accomplish.

On August 16th, an article called "Supersizing Hits Freight World" appeared in the Wall Street Journal. It jumbled the truck weight reform movement with other shipping efficiency issues and those who oppose them. As a result, readers misunderstood our efforts to carefully raise the federal interstate weight limit in a way that would improve highway safety and shipping efficiency.

Even the article's title led readers to believe the bill I introduced is something it is not. It's time to set the record straight.

The bill I introduced in Congress would make trucks more efficient without changing their size. In fact, all SETA does is give states like Maine the option to raise interstate weight limits for trucks equipped with six axles instead of the usual five. This additional axle maintains braking abilities and road wear standards so that we can safely get more goods from the farm or factory to consumers with fewer trips, vehicle miles and gallons of fuel. So while the bill may allow for an increase in the amount each truck can haul, it does it without increasing a truck's size and with safety as a top priority.

Studies show that the biggest contributor to truck accident rates is the vehicle miles they travel - not the weight they haul. Many trucks leave loading docks with significant space in their trailers, meaning they travel more miles than necessary to deliver products. I saw this firsthand when I would load trucks at the paper mill I worked in. If current weight restrictions remain, this inefficiency problem will only worsen. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that many more trucks and vehicle miles will be needed as our economy grows. What some folks still fail to realize is that SETA would actually reduce the number of trucks and vehicle miles necessary to meet demand, which would make roads safer now and in the future.

In Maine, the increase in efficiencies that would be realized through the passage of SETA would be very welcome news. It would allow our industries to be more competitive with our neighbors and it would save on fuel. It would also help reduce pollution by making sure we are getting the most out of every truck mile travelled. And most importantly, it would promote safety for Mainers by making sure more heavily loaded trucks aren't forced to take secondary roads through town centers in their travels up and down our state.

But Maine is not alone. Idaho, Wisconsin, Ohio and many other states could benefit if current law was changed. Giving trucks access to interstates engineered for heavy traffic would improve road safety throughout the country.

SETA is a bipartisan plan to safeguard our economy and transportation network by striking the right balance between productivity and safety. The old debate that continues to lump important efficiency improvements like SETA with efforts to "supersize" trucking is outdated, and the discussion and rhetoric must be changed.

The Wall Street Journal and others from away still don't quite seem to get it. Some don't even want the truck weight pilot program that we worked hard to pass for our state to continue. But I am working hard to correct inaccuracies as they come up and will continue to fight for this important policy change for our state.

Mike Michaud

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