Those of us who sound the alarm about insufficient investment in America's highway infrastructure—and therefore believe we must increase the use of tolls and public-private partnerships—have long been faced with a dilemma. The main highway user groups (auto clubs and trucking organizations) have a long history of opposing any expansion of tolling, primarily on the grounds of "double taxation."
In November 1999, at that year's ARTBA Public-Private Ventures conference, I challenged the transportation community to take highway customers seriously. In particular, I said, we need to listen to their concerns about double taxation. Indeed, I suggested that with today's electronic toll collection systems, it would be simple and inexpensive to keep track of the miles driven on new toll facilities and grant rebates of fuel taxes paid for those miles. The loss of revenue to highway trust funds would be small in comparison to the amount of new capacity that might be added by making tolled facilities politically do-able. Pete Ruane seconded these thoughts in his luncheon summary of the conference.
In November 2000 we published Peter Samuel's policy study, "Putting Customers in the Driverï¿½s Seat: The Case for Tolls." In this piece, we documented the looming crisis in highway funding and made the case for 21st-century tolling. Our two key policy proposals, aimed at making tolling customer-friendly, were:
1) No double taxation: give rebates of fuel taxes for miles driven on (at least new) toll facilities, and
2) No more toll booths: make fully automated, highway-speed tolling (as on Toronto's Highway 407) standard U.S. practice.
This spring we will be taking the next step, applying these ideas to the trucking sector. Our proposal is for Toll Truckways, which would be heavy-duty truck lanes added to existing Interstate and other National Network corridors. Aimed at meeting the trucking industry's need for greatly increased productivity (via longer and heavier truck/trailer combinations), these new truck lanes would be paid for solely by tolls. Rebates of fuel taxes would be provided using mileage records compiled for each trucking firm by the Truckway's electronic toll collection system. This research has been under way for about 18 months, by co-authors Jose Holguin-Veras (CCNY) and transport economist Peter Samuel. The study is in the final stages of editing, following peer review, and should be published by late Spring.
Interest in this issue has been sparked by several recent truck-toll developments around the country, as reported in the March 11 issue of the ATA's Transport Topics. The nation's first privately developed truck toll road, Camino Colombia, opened near the end of 2000 in Laredo, Texas, providing quick, uncongested access from the Colombia-Solidarity Bridge to I-35. In Los Angeles, the Southern California Association of Governments has completed the first of a set of feasibility studies on adding 133 miles of truck toll lanes to four highly congested freeways. And the Virginia legislature has just passed a measure to permit the addition of truck toll lanes to 325 miles of I-81. The latter proposal has aroused trucking industry opposition—predictably in our view, because it did not include either increased truck size and weight or rebates on fuel taxes. One or both of those features could be added during further stages of the approval process by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
That March 11 Transport Topics contained an excellent feature article on the growing use, worldwide and in the United States, of tolls and public-private partnerships. It also included a guest opinion piece by me, "Commercial Trucking Needs Commercial Highways," which I've included as an attached file.
Toll Truckways could be an important feature of next year's reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program. Our forthcoming policy study will include specific recommendations.