Congress should allow heavy trucks back on Maine and Vermont's interstates for a multi-year study of the impact, Vermont's top highway enforcement officer says.
A one-year pilot project expired last week that let trucks weighing between 80,000 and 99,000 pounds on interstates.
Capt. William "Jake" Elovirta, in charge of enforcement for the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, warns truckers the state will enforce the law.
U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, included language to extend the pilot project in a budget bill that failed to pass the Senate last week.
The Senate will not consider it until February, a Leahy spokesman said.
That sends heavier trucks off the interstates and onto roads such as Route 5 to travel the length and breadth of Vermont and through the many small villages along the way.
Elovirta remains hopeful that Leahy and Collins will get a new pilot project approved in the New Year.
"At least let us do three to five years and include I-189 and let us study it," he said Tuesday. "At this point in time, we've seen some benefits of it."
He has seen the stress on truckers and the time loss caused by having to constantly shift gears and slowly maneuver on Vermont's secondary roads.
Other states in the U.S. are interested in what such a study will say about highway usage, he said.
Vermont looked at truck weights and impacts during the past 11 months, which isn't really long enough for a proper study, Elovirta said.
He does not have the complete analysis yet but so far the news is good for truckers and for those who want heavy trucks off secondary roads and out of village centers.
"There were no crashes I'm aware of involving serious or fatal injuries," Elovirta said.
One bad accident last January near Montpelier involved two milk trucks, he noted -- which were already allowed on the interstate at that weight. Milk tank trucks are grandfathered in at a higher weight than other trucks, Elovirta said.
However, there were some consistent weight violations.
Elovirta said he told trucking industry leaders that they should warn their members to be careful.
"I'm not the one who's going to ruin it for you folks," he said.
DMV relies not just on weight check stations by DMV officers but also the new remote weather sensor stations erected in the past year along the interstates. They look like small cellular towers and can measure the weight of passing vehicles as well as road conditions.
"I may not catch you, but those sensor stations will," he told truckers. "You are only shooting yourself in the foot."
In particular, DMV had an issue with logging trucks -- more than any other commodity -- which were consistently overweight when the pilot project began, he said.
Loggers were saying they just wanted to throw on one more log to clean up an area rather than have to go back for it, Elovirta said.
That isn't a good excuse to violate the weight restrictions, he said.
In general, though, the violations were addressed during the year, he said.
Elovirta hopes that the pilot project will be reintroduced to include I-189, the mile-long access road in Burlington. Without it, he said, heavier trucks are sent down neighborhood streets.
Without the pilot project, the DMV will enforce the weight restrictions again.
Elovirta said he and his officers have reached out to the industry and trade publications to alert truckers. However, there will be no grace period because the law is the law, he said.
"We can't turn a blind eye or be neglectful," he said.
And neither should truckers, he said, who will be considered negligent if they knowingly violate the law governing truck weights.