America is facing a major shortfall in highway capacity to handle the projected growth in freight traffic, 90 percent of which is hauled by trucks. America has also been unable to realize the shipping cost savings which would be possible via nationwide use of double-and triple-trailer rigs (known as Longer Combination Vehicles or LCVs). At the same time, there is widespread concern about the dangers of big trucks and the 5,000 annual deaths in which they are involved. And there is growing congestion on many key Interstate routes.
All four problems could be addressed by a federal policy change to permit toll truckways to be added to Interstate highways. As defined in a 2002 Reason Public Policy Institute study, toll truckways would be heavy-duty, barrier-separated new lanes added to Interstates on which it would be legal to operate LCVs. Trucking companies indicate that they would be willing to pay tolls to obtain the productivity gains from expanded LCV operations, and the toll revenues offer serious potential as a funding source for such truckways.
In this new study, we sought to identify the most promising initial Interstate corridors where toll truckways could be implemented, as in a federal pilot program to test the concept. We made use of a large-scale federal goods-movement database, plus a survey of trucking companies that currently operate LCVs, and corridorspecific information obtained from state departments of transportation.
After identifying about four dozen possible corridors, we used projected (2020) truck volume to narrow the scope to 20 high-volume corridors between logical origins and destinations. The 20 routes were assessed first for potential ability to generate toll revenue if toll truckways were added to them, using a variety of factors. We then assessed the 10 corridors judged to have the highest revenue potential to determine the degree to which they have right of way available (generally in the median) to add truckways, and the nature of the terrain through which they pass. This led to the selection of what we consider to be the most promising corridors for pilot toll truckway projects.
The most important federal policy change necessary for toll truckways is permission for LCVs to use these new barrier-separated lanes in states where LCV use is now forbidden by federal law. Obviously, too, federal permission would be needed to charge tolls on these lanes in Interstate corridors. Because most toll truckways would traverse more than one state—and would be most viable and logical as multi-state facilities—federal law needs to include a mechanism to facilitate multi-state corridor planning and development.
The pending reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program in 2004 offers an ideal opportunity to create a pilot program for toll truckways. Doing so would permit a serious test of (1) a way of financing much-needed additions of highway capacity by using a new funding source, and (2) a way of making the U.S. economy more productive by reducing shipping costs thanks to greatly increased productivity in longhaul trucking.