11.11.11

Leahy Wins Extension Of Program To Reduce Heavy Truck Traffic In Vermont Downtowns

Program Will Move Heavier Trucks To Vermont’s Interstates For Next 20 Years

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, Nov. 11) – U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has won House and Senate negotiators' approval of a 20-year extension of a pilot program in Vermont to move heavy trucks off state secondary roads and onto the state’s Interstate highways. 

Leahy's provisions for Vermont -- and similar provisions for Maine, advocated by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine -- have now been agreed to by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees' negotiators on the transportation budget bill.  Leahy had included his provision in the annual transportation funding bill passed earlier by the Senate.  The counterpart House bill did not have truck waiver provisions.  Leahy is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and of its transportation subcommittee.  The final bill is expected to gain final Senate and House approval next week, then it will go to the President to be signed into law.  The final compromise extends Leahy's Vermont waiver and the Maine waiver for 20 years. The earlier Senate bill would have made the changes permanent.

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 2009, these exceptions, combined with a state law that allows trucks over 80,000 pounds to operate on Vermont’s secondary roadways, have resulted in overweight truck traffic traveling through Vermont on some of the state’s smaller roadways, creating safety concerns and putting pressure on the state’s aging transportation infrastructure.

Leahy said, "This is a hard-won victory for Vermont's towns and rural communities.  No one thinks that overweight trucks should rumble through our historic villages and downtowns on two-lane roads, putting people and our state’s failing transportation infrastructure at risk.  This extension will shift heavy trucks from overburdened state secondary roads, which wind through many downtowns across our state, to the state’s Interstate highways for decades to come.  This will especially help Vermont businesses and communities that are struggling most from the large number of state and local roads heavily damaged by Irene.” 

Leahy said he hopes the extension will help transportation officials better understand whether or not the new option is helping to 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 provision. 

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