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Reason Foundation

Toll Truckways

A New Path Toward Safer and More Efficient Freight Transportation

Peter Samuel, Robert Poole and Jose Holguin-Veras
June 1, 2002

Executive Summary

he United States needs a fresh approach to long-distance inter-city trucking. The current system, which integrates large trucks and smaller passenger vehicles in mixed traffic lanes, leads to frequent conflicts between cars and trucks. It also unduly limits the potential productivity of long-haul trucking.

This policy study offers a viable alternative: self-financing toll truckways. These toll truckways would consist of one or more lanes in each direction for sole use by large trucks, separated from existing lanes by concrete barriers, and generally equipped with their own ingress and egress ramps. These truck “freewayswithin- the-freeway” would be custom-built and designed for use by longer and heavier trucks, which would have exclusive rights to the lanes, and would keep the general motoring public free from exposure to big rigs in the mixed-traffic lanes. If permitted by the 2003 reauthorizatioin of the federal surface transportation program, the first toll truckways could be in service by the end of the decade.

In August 2000, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) published its Truck Size and Weight Study. That study documented the significant productivity gains (net savings of between $10 billion and $40 billion per year) which would be possible if longer combination vehicles (LCVs) were permitted on more of America’s major highways. Since those heavier LCVs can cause significantly greater wear and tear on the highways, pavement and bridges would have to be improved to accommodate heavier loads. The DOT’s Truck Size and Weight Study included an estimate of the costs of rebuilding major portions of the Interstate system to handle heavier trucks. Unfortunately, the DOT did not reach any conclusions regarding the safety implications of allowing longer and heavier trucks to use the nation’s highway system.

This report suggests a new approach. The DOT’s estimate of the cost of upgrading the infrastructure to accommodate heavier loads assumed that all travel lanes on the affected highways would have to be improved. This study suggests that, rather than rebuilding all lanes, federal and state governments should T authorize only specialized truck lanes which would be designed for exclusive use by large trucks. This approach would significantly reduce the amount of money it would take to improve the nation’s highways in order to accommodate greater use of LCVs. Moreover, if large trucks were separated from automobiles and smaller vehicles as this study suggests, safety would actually increase along with transportation efficiency.

The quantitative analysis in this study assesses the costs of developing and operating such specialized truckways along existing Interstate rights-of-way (e.g., in currently unused medians). The estimated productivity gains in this study are modeled on the assumption that LCVs and other heavy trucks would operate on such dedicated truckways and not in mixed traffic lanes. The analysis assumes that trucking firms would be willing to pay a toll of up to one-half of the cost savings that would be generated from the use of such truckways. The analysis concludes that toll truckways of the kind proposed in this study would be selfsupporting and could even yield commercial rates of return. Thus, it is possible that some could be developed as private business ventures, in cooperation with state departments of transportation.

The study recommends that, since trucks using the truckways would pay tolls to cover the costs of building and operating the lanes, those trucks should not be charged ordinary state or federal fuel taxes or other truck user taxes for the miles they actually drive on the truckways. The same electronic toll-collection system used on the truckways could be used to record the miles driven and would provide the information required to rebate state and federal user taxes. After factoring in the rebate of user taxes, the net cost of using the truckways would, in many cases, be comparable to the current expenses heavy trucks incur using existing turnpikes.

Several policy changes are required before toll truckways could be implemented. The most important of these changes include: (1) providing a right-of-way along existing highway corridors on the federal-aid system; (2) easing current federal truck size and weight regulations for trucks using the truckways; and (3) providing a rebate of federal and state truck user taxes for miles driven on toll-supported truckways.


Robert Poole is Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy

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