Are No Tolls Taking a Toll on Our Highway System?

The saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” certainly doesn’t apply to our national roads and bridges. So what can we do about it?

There are few topics that everyone agrees upon as being capable of having a major impact on an entire issue. But there is one that we’ve been writing about for quite a while. For our industry, for our citizenry, for the country, we must improve our nation’s highways. A recent FleetOwner article illustrates just how bad things are.

The story, “The battle over broken roads continues,” starts out by noting that “driving on deteriorated urban roads costs the average motorist as much as $1,044 annually by accelerating vehicle deterioration and depreciation, and increasing needed maintenance, fuel consumption, and tire wear.” And it’s just going to get worse. With the economy improving and lower fuel prices, people are traveling more. Plus, with the anticipated growth in commercial truck travel, expect ever more wear and tear on the roads.

Congress has been passing one short-term stopgap spending bill after another when what we need is a long-term strategy. So what are the proposals? The article cites C. Kenneth Orski, a 30-year veteran transportation expert and consultant who examined the Senate’s proposed six-year surface transportation funding bill. This bill, the DRIVE Act:

  • Authorizes spending of $317 billion in FY 2016-2021, with the majority, $257.5 going to highways
  • Estimates the highway trust fund (HTF) revenue and interest expected during that six-year period would be, according to the Congressional Budget Office, $240 billion, or $40 billion per year.

That means that offsets, in the amount of $77 billion are needed. According to Orski, trying to fund those offsets “involves budget gimmickry and many questionable assumptions.” So if those budgetary fixes don’t materialize, what else can be done?

Once again, the issue of highway tolls has come to the forefront. However, this is not a popular move for the trucking industry. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), Tolling – even electronic tolling – is still much less efficient than the traditional, fuel tax-based user fee system, and we continue to see, despite current safeguards, tolls used for purposes other than maintenance of the roads they’re collected on.” The association would much prefer a hike in fuel taxes to generate the necessary funds. But taxes are anathema to some in Washington.

So here we are at an impasse, yet again. I keep hoping that one day I won’t have to write about this issue. Unfortunately, today is not that day.

Read the full FleetOwner article.

David Beaudry

About David Beaudry

David Beaudry is Director of Logistics Engineering and Consulting for NationaLease. He brings 25 years experience in surface transportation, logistics engineering, and consulting. His earlier career includes management posts with Ryder System Inc. and National Freight. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Central Connecticut State.

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