The Maine Turnpike Authority recently voted to restrict the new third lane of the Maine Turnpike from use by heavy-duty trucks. The Maine Department of Transportation also adopted this rule for the section of I-95 between the Maine Turnpike and the New Hampshire State Line.
The Maine Professional Drivers Association opposes this restriction for many reasons, especially though, for safety reasons.
The MPDA is made up of professional truck drivers who join with the specific goal of promoting safety and professionalism on our highways. Members consist of a wide cross-section of the trucking industry, including union and nonunion drivers, drivers from large and small companies, owner-operators and truck owners.
These Maine truck drivers, until now, have always been proud to say Maine had enough common sense not to have lane restrictions that bunch up traffic behind trucks unable to get by slow moving vehicles as in some other states. Our state has always been considered a leader in our industry for helping to maintain that open lane as a safety cushion for all its drivers. If any vehicle needs to make an evasive maneuver, pass a slow moving vehicle, move over to make room for breakdowns or traffic entering the highway, that option has always been there.
The Maine Professional Drivers Association and its members have promoted and endorsed the widening of the turnpike as a way to spread traffic out to allow for more following distance, side-of-vehicle safety cushions and traffic that moves safely and efficiently. Restricting use of the third lane will encourage drivers to tailgate, pass on the right and create many dangerous situations especially at on and off-ramps that could be alleviated with a simple pass on the left.
The situation is further aggravated by the recent removal of the rule mandating vehicles to return to the right after passing. Now many drivers simply “park” themselves in the middle lane without regard to what is going on around them, hampering our ability to get by or maintain the speed limit.
We also believe the environmental reasons for the restriction are ludicrous. The Turnpike Authority promotes a study showing vehicles will travel 3 mph faster in the left lane, therefore causing more pollution. We would point out that if trucks comprise about 10 percent of the traffic on the Turnpike, the amount of time they actually go in the third lane before returning to the second (or first) lane is actually such a small percentage that we cannot calculate that minuscule amount in relation to other vehicles in determining any increase in pollution. Also, many trucks are restricted mechanically or electronically from speeding so the difference in speed becomes a moot point, as they will travel the same speed whether they are in the first, second or third lanes.
It seems that restricting one of our “escape valves” to maintain a safety cushion around our trucks and not allowing us to travel safely and efficiently just doesn’t make sense.
And now, the Turnpike Authority has announced it wants us to pay higher tolls to use fewer lanes.
Ron Hutchins is president of the Maine Professional Drivers Association.