Key Panel Advances Leahy’s Bid To Permanently Reduce Heavy Truck Traffic In Vermont Downtowns

. . . Leahy Measure Will Move Heavier Trucks Onto Vt.’s Interstates

WASHINGTON – The Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday advanced legislation by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that would permanently move heavy trucks off state secondary roads and onto the state’s Interstate highways.  Leahy’s provision will help Vermont businesses and communities struggling due to the large number of state and local roads heavily damaged during the recent flooding disaster. 

Leahy included his provision in the annual transportation funding bill that the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee approved Tuesday – the initial step for his legislation.  Leahy is a senior member of the transportation funding panel.  On Wednesday the bill was approved by the full Appropriations Committee, where Leahy is number two in seniority.  Leahy’s Vermont provision is paired with a similar change for Maine, authored by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is the lead Republican member of the Transportation Subcommittee.

The Appropriations Committee also approved another Leahy initiative to add $1.9 billion to the emergency coffers of the Federal Highway Administration, for helping to rebuild roads damaged by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, and by other natural disasters.  Vermont alone faces hundreds of millions of dollars in road repair costs.  

Current federal law restricts trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds from regularly using the nation’s Interstate highway system.  But portions of the Interstate network in neighboring states allow higher-weight trucks to operate on those Interstates due to special circumstances, from tolling to grandfather clauses.  Prior to Leahy securing the initial pilot program in 2010,  these exceptions, combined with a Vermont law that allows trucks over 80,000 pounds to operate on Vermont’s secondary roadways, resulted in overweight truck traffic traveling through Vermont on some of the state’s smaller roads, creating safety concerns and straining the state’s aging transportation infrastructure.

Leahy said, “No one thinks that overweight trucks should rumble through our historic villages and downtowns on two-lane roads, putting people and our state’s aging infrastructure at risk.  Storm damage has further strained our smaller roads and bridges.  This extension will keep these trucks out of our downtowns permanently.  I have heard from many truckers, Vermont businesses and state and town leaders who reported a significant reduction of heavy truck traffic in our downtowns and villages while the pilot program that I authored was in effect.  I am pleased that they join me in support of moving these heavier trucks onto the Interstates.” 

Governor Peter Shumlin said, "I am thankful to Senator Leahy for securing this exemption for Vermont.  Getting our heaviest trucks off of our town roads will alleviate pressure as we rebuild our local infrastructure affected by

Irene and in the long run will boost economic development and the quality of life in our downtowns."

Leahy said he hopes the extension will help ease truck traffic in commercial and residential areas like Derby Line, where heavy trucks from Canada are forced to exit from Interstate 91 to take U.S. Route 5 South through Vermont.  Leahy said he has heard similar stories of overweight truck traffic taking state routes along the Interstate from several communities, including in Burlington along U.S. Routes 2 and 7, in Brattleboro along U.S. Route 5, and in St. Johnsbury along U.S. Routes 2 and 5.  

Leahy and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and U.S. Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) have been working with state and municipal officials across Vermont to find a solution to the problem of excessive numbers of overweight trucks rumbling through downtowns and villages.  Sanders and Welch support the Leahy legislation. 

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