As the New Year begins, the question remains on how to fund the much-needed repairs on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. This also includes the federal interstate highway system, which 25 percent of all vehicle miles traveled each year happens on. However, about half of the miles traveled each year by heavy trucks also happen on these highways. It has been proposed by a recent study by the Transportation Research Board and legislators, including newly-elected Connecticut governor Ned Lamont that only heavy trucks should be tolled to fund highway repairs, in addition to higher federal fuel taxes for all drivers.
Repairs for Highways Greatly Underfunded
The ongoing issue is that most of the nation’s transportation infrastructure has exceeded its designed lives and requires repairs and, in some instances, complete overhauls. Currently, the federal and state governments only spend about $20 – $25 billion a year on infrastructure repairs for the nation’s interstate highways and bridges. It is estimated in the transportation study that because of the poor condition of our nation’s highways alone, it would take between $45 - $70 billion a year for the next 20 years to fix and modernize them. The study did not provide an estimate of how much more money it would cost to fix bridges that have been in service for over 50 years.
Trucking Industry Already Hit Hard
The original intent of the interstate system was to keep traffic congestion off local roads. However, because of its poor condition and need for expansion, it too now suffers from severe congestion. The American Trucking Association estimates that traffic bottlenecks are already costing the trucking industry $74.5 billion a year.
The ATA and Transportation Research Board do agree on one point. The federal government needs to increase the amount of funding needed to fix the nation’s interstate highway system on top of the regular maintenance spending. Currently, the 2016 $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan proposed by then presidential-candidate Donald Trump has not made it through Congress.
American Trucking Association’s Argument Against Truck-Only Tolls
The ATA agrees with the need for fuel taxes but is against tolls for heavy trucks. The organization argues the tolls unfairly discriminates against truckers and will increase the cost of moving freight. Chris Spear, ATA chief executive argues that “The fuel tax has and continues to be the most conservative, immediate and efficient way to fund infrastructure and it doesn’t add one penny to the deficit.” According to Spear, the administrative costs for tolling could cost as much as 35 cents per dollar to administer, while increasing the gas tax would result in less than a one cent rise in administration costs. The last time the federal gas tax was raised was in 1993. This tax remains at 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline, 24.4 cents for diesel fuel and has never been indexed to inflation.
While Connecticut is exploring implementing truck-only tolls, Rhode Island has already done so. The ATA is currently suing the state on the basis that the tolls are discriminatory to truckers. You can expect that the ATA will continue to look out for the best interest of carriers and truckers as we begin 2019 and throughout the coming year.