Tolls taking toll
24 April 2008
Celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System have been marred somewhat by the prospect of new tolls along this national treasure. Atleast 10 states including Florida, Texas, and Virginia want to toll existing Interstate routes.
The interstate system's guiding philosophy had always been that user-fee supported roads were preferable to toll roads except for the construction or replacement of bridges and tunnels. Already suffering from increasing fuel costs, the trucking industry would be bruised by new tolls on existing lanes of the interstatesystem.
Tolls would result in double taxation for our industry. Truckers now pay a federal diesel fueltax of 24.4 cents per gallon, a 12% excise tax on new tractors and trailers and an annual vehicle use tax of up to $550, and a tax ontires. Commercial vehicles pay about 40% of all federal highway user fees, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
A noteworthy example of the unfair imposition of tolls on existing interstates occurred on June 1, when the Colorado Department of Transportation converted seven miles of high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstate 25 north of Denver to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. Truckers using those lanes pay a surcharge of $18 in addition to base fees ranging from 40cents to $3.25. The surcharge truly discourage struckers from driving in the HOT lanes.
Although SC&RA objects to such conversions, the trucking industry generally supports HOT lanes and reasonable tolls on new capacity, as long as use of the lanes is voluntary. Transportation officials increasingly talk about a transition to the use of more private roads and wider use of tolls as part of the strategy to ease highway congestion through public-private partnerships.
SC&RA is monitoring a number of projects under consideration. The Trans-Texas Corridor(TTC), for example, is a proposed multi-use, statewide network of transportation routes. Financing would come from the private sector, along with tolls, bonds, limited state funds and other revenue sources. Each route would include separate lanes for passenger vehicles and large trucks; freight railways; high-speed commuter railways; infrastructure for utilities including water lines, oil and gas pipelines; and transmission lines for electricity, broadband and other telecommunications services.
SC&RA has several important questions about TTC. Will truckers be forced to paytolls on routes where tolls do not now exist?Will there be adequate provision for handling the special needs of oversize/overweight loads?Will tolls be equitable, with measures in place to keep our members from paying for a disproportionate share of the Corridor?
Many state governments are grappling with the cost of tolls for truckers. In some cases the news has been encouraging. Last year Ohio slashed truck tolls on its turnpike after discovering that large percentages of trucks were turning to less safe, adjacent, non-tollroads. New York Governor George Pataki recently proposed legislation to reduce tolls for truckers on the New York State Thruway, the nation's longest toll highway system.
Beyond the cost of tolls, SC&RA remains concerned about issues such as physical constraints and in convenience presented by toll plazas. In parts of the country our members are prevented from using toll roads simply because their vehicles cannot fitthrough the toll plazas.
In other places they waste valuable time waiting to have their money collected. Westrongly support toll collection technologies such as E-Z Pass, which makes traveling more convenient, helps you save money through discount plans, and reduces traffic congestion for everyone.
As further developments occur concerning tolls, SC&RA will work to protect your interests and to keep you informed through this magazine, our weekly newsletter and presentations at our Specialized TransportationSymposium and Annual Conference.
As always, we welcome your feedback on these important issues.