During a visit to Champlain Oil Company in South Burlington Monday, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy announced that he and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) this week will introduce a bill making permanent a now-expired federal pilot program allowing heavy trucks to use the Interstate system in Maine and Vermont. Leahy was joined by Vermont legislative leaders, trucking advocates, state officials and business leaders in pointing to the economic, environmental and safety benefits of moving heavy truck traffic from Vermont’s state highway system to Vermont’s Interstate system.‘The higher truck weight standards in surrounding states create problems in Vermont when those trucks have to detour through our small towns on local roads,’ said Leahy. ‘The hodge podge of disjointed rules that has evolved in our region does not work for anyone, especially the communities that have had to absorb the added traffic. By now, neighbors like New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Quebec all have permanent exemptions from federal Interstate weight limits. That means heavier trucks must travel over our smaller roadways, creating traffic and safety concerns and taking a toll on our already overburdened roads and bridges. The Vermont pilot program has proved itself, and it’s time to make it permanent.’Leahy and Collins authored legislation in the 2010 federal transportation budget bill that created a one-year pilot program in Vermont and Maine to study the effects of moving overweight truck traffic off state highways and onto federally funded Interstates. Their pilot program expired in mid-December and was blocked from being renewed in late December when Republican senators derailed a bill that included a measure by Leahy and Collins to extend the program. 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 heavier truck traffic rolling through Vermont on some of the state’s smaller roadways, creating safety concerns and putting pressure on the state’s aging transportation infrastructure.Last year Leahy helped convince President Obama of the merits of the Vermont and Maine pilot programs, and the White House released a statement that supported making the Leahy-Collins programs in Vermont and Maine permanent. The two leading transportation legislators from the Vermont State Legislature, Vermont State Senator Richard Mazza (D-Grand Isle), chairman of the Vermont Senate Transportation Committee, and Representative Pat Brennan (R-Colchester), chairman of the Vermont House Transportation Committee, explained that the Vermont Legislature supports trying to move heavy truck traffic off state highways and onto the Interstate system ‘ and has been considering state efforts to accomplish the goal.Representatives from the Vermont Truck and Bus Association, the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, the Vermont Petroleum Association, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, and the Vermont Agency of Transportation ‘ including Vermont Transportation Secretary Brian Searles — made remarks supporting the bill by Leahy and Collins during the announcement on Monday.SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (MONDAY, Jan. 24) ‘# # # # # During a news conference Monday morning, Champlain Oil Company Vice President Bryan Cairns explained that during the Vermont pilot program, Champlain Oil Company saved 43,400 gallons of diesel fuel and traveled 320,000 fewer miles because the pilot program allowed them to deliver more efficiently.