Leahy Wins Key Step For Measure Aimed at Reducing Heavy Truck Traffic In Vermont Downtowns

. . . Pilot Program Will Test Impact Of Moving Heavier Trucks To Vermont’s Interstates

WASHINGTON (WEDNESDAY, Dec. 9) – U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has won initial approval of his legislation to create a pilot program in Vermont to move heavy trucks off state secondary roads and onto the state’s Interstate highways for one year, using the practical experience to evaluate impacts on highway safety, bridge and road durability, commerce, truck volumes and energy use in Vermont.

Leahy included his provision in the annual transportation funding bill that a House-Senate conference committee approved late Tuesday night – the key step for his legislation.  Leahy is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and of its transportation subcommittee.  The bill – combined with five other annual appropriations bills – now goes to the Senate and House for final approval, expected soon.

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.  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, “Vermont state policy and neighboring states’ policies on truck weights have produced the reality that overweight trucks are here, and they will continue to operate in Vermont.  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 step will get these trucks out of our downtowns in the short term.  In the longer term it will help us determine, with real-world experience, whether it is safer and better for both our infrastructure and the environment to have these trucks use the Interstate system.”

Leahy said he hopes to learn whether or not the new option 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 provision.   

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