The vital need to change federal regulations to allow trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds travel on I-95 north of Augusta is an important step closer to reality, thanks to the efforts of Sen. Susan Collins. The federal transportation budget for next year, approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which Sen. Collins serves, includes a provision to create a one-year pilot project to exempt the state from the 80,000-pound truck limit.

In a perfect world, facts and reason would drive decisions about such matters. But in this imperfect realm, political clout often holds sway. That’s where Sen. Collins comes in. But it was more than just her stature in the Senate, where she is known as a moderate who is willing to work with both Re-publicans and Democrats, that led to this important first step. The senator also has earned a reputation for pragmatism and integrity. The truck weight program is not a bridge to nowhere, but in fact a seamless connection of the existing federal highway system.

And her persistence on the issue also led to this success.

“Increasing federal truck weight limits on Maine’s interstates has always been one of my top priorities,” the senator said in a press release on the issue. “A uniform truck weight limit would keep trucks on interstates where they belong, rather than on the rural roads that pass through our small towns and villages.”

The one-year pilot program will allow transportation officials to assess the actual impacts of allowing the heavier trucks on the highway. Rather than guess about what the current regulation means for wear and tear on roads, safety and commerce, the one-year study will provide much-needed data.

It was in 1994 that the U.S. Department of Transportation told the state it was out of compliance with the weight limit rule. The state’s congressional delegation has been working since then to reverse the policy. Sen. Collins reported earlier this year that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood agreed to work on the problem.

The provision creating the pilot program now must win approval from both houses of Congress and get the president’s signature, but with the powerful committee’s endorsement, it is likely to win passage.

Sen. Collins, and many other elected officials and business leaders in Maine, probably don’t need the results of a study to know that the current policy is bad for the state. In a statement to the press, Sen. Collins characterized the current restrictions as “a significant impediment to commerce [that] increases wear-and-tear on our secondary roads, and, most important, puts our residents needlessly at risk.”

The fight to lift the restriction isn’t over, but this is a significant first round victory.