- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 8, 2002

The trucking industry and members of Congress are considering a proposal to build dedicated truck tollways across the country as a way to ease congestion and reduce traffic accidents.
The 44-page proposal, released Wednesday by the Reason Public Policy Institute, a Los Angeles-based think tank, contends that toll truck lanes on rural highways would decrease accidents and cut the nation's trucking costs by as much as $40 billion.
The RPPI analyzed the potential impact of truck toll roads on long-distance, intercity roads only. More urban highways, like the Capital Beltway or Interstate 270, were not addressed.
Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said he would be willing to spearhead talks on the feasability of the project because of its potential to improve highway safety and cut down on congestion. He cited a recent report from the Texas Transportation Institute that found congestion in America's urban areas was costing motorists $78 billion a year in wasted time and fuel.
"I want to stress that I have made no final decision on this issue, but I do believe the findings of this report add credibility to the concept," Mr. Young said. "I look forward to additional discussions on this issue."
The RPPI spent 18 months analyzing truck productivity and costs.It concluded that truckers would pay between 50 and 80 cents per mile on a separate tollway, or more than double what they currently pay. But truckers would then not be required to pay fuel or other use taxes. The RPPI contends that states would be able to handle the lost tax revenue because maintenance and expansion costs on current highways will decrease with the addition of truck toll roads.
Furthermore, the report's authors said, increased tolls paid by trucks along dedicated highways could be offset by increases in the weight trucks are be permitted to carry. Most highways have strict weight requirements, and many do not allow double- or triple-length trailers.
"One driver could be hauling one, two, three, four times the amount of freight," said Robert W. Poole, the RPPI's director of transportation studies. "That would make an enormous difference."
The U.S. Department of Transportation said in its truck size and weight study in 2000 that combination trailers, like doubles and triples, would reduce fuel costs by 6 percent to 12 percent, with overall trucking travel reduced by 8 billion miles per year.
The trucking industry has opposed many recent truck tollway proposals, arguing that their tax dollars already go to maintaining established roads. The industry recently argued against a bill in Virginia's General Assembly that enabled a truck-only lane to be built along Interstate 81.
But the industry expressed support though qualified for the plan this week because of its provisions that exclude trucks from many taxes and permit more freight to be carried.
"The RPPI report incorporates many of the elements necessary for a safe and economically viable truck-lane proposal," said William Canary, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations.
ATA also said it favored provisions allowing voluntary use of truck lanes and separate truck ramps.
Mr. Poole conceded that the total cost of a truck tollway system about $3 million per lane-mile would be tens of billions of dollars. But he said construction could be funded without taxpayer money through the use of revenue bonds. And, he said, trucking companies could reap big savings if tollways are built only in states that now have strict freight requirements.


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