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Un-Reason-able
OOIDA takes issue with Reason Foundation’s ‘toll the interstates’ study

By David Tanner, associate editor

OOIDA takes serious issue with a Reason Foundation study that suggests all interstate highways should become toll roads in the future. The average toll for a truck, as suggested by the D.C.-based think tank, would be 14 cents a mile.

“Once again, we’ve got the ivory tower academics who do not understand how truckers and motorists use and already pay for our highway system coming up with a scheme for tolling in which everything works like clockwork,” OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley said.

Reason Foundation Director Robert Poole authored the interstate study, which urges Congress to open the door to interstate tolls in the next highway bill.

Current law prohibits interstate highways from being tolled except for those that apply for a pilot program that allows up to three facilities to be tolled. Even though the pilot program has been around for 20 years, no state has successfully converted toll-free lanes to tolled lanes.

“Don’t let this study fool you,” Bowley said. “While it may be talking just about the interstate, what they really want is for the toll meter to start running the minute you leave your driveway.”

Truckers already pay fuel taxes, a heavy vehicle use tax, a 12 percent excise tax on heavy equipment, tire taxes and registration fees to use the national system. They pay taxes on every mile they run in each state, as well.

Even with truckers paying a 36 percent share of what makes up the federal Highway Trust Fund, the fund is not taking in as much as is paid out for road and bridge work. Fuel taxes have not increased since 1993, and increased construction costs mean less bang for the buck. The Congressional Budget Office says the trust fund will be broke in 2015 without a solution.

But tolling is not the solution.

“In the fantasy land of a D.C. think tank, tolling may provide solutions, but truckers and other motorists recognize that instead of being a silver bullet solution, tolling presents more and more problems – not just for our highways but for our economy,” Bowley said.

Tolls have a direct effect on a trucker’s bottom line.

“The highway system faces significant funding challenges. Truckers and motorists everywhere need to send a strong message to their members of Congress that tolls are taxes on mobility and will have significant, negative consequences,” Bowley said.

The Reason study does not urge Congress to replace the fuel tax with tolls. It would keep both. The author says under his toll proposal, the system would reimburse truckers and other motorists for the fuel taxes they paid while driving on a tolled interstate highway.

The toll system would have variable pricing, making urban interstates and bridges more expensive depending on the time of day. Rush hour, for example, would have the highest toll rate.

Truckers butting up against an hours-of-service clock and making “just in time” deliveries to shippers and receivers do not always get to choose when they enter an urban or congested area. A higher toll rate for them would amount to an extra tax for doing their jobs.

Bowley points out that a tolled interstate system will also lead to more traffic, including heavy trucks, on state and local roadways as America’s truckers work to make ends meet.

“Beyond the overall problems that the Reason Foundation points out, they show a complete lack of understanding of how the trucking industry works and how truckers are paid, and how paying a toll isn’t something truckers get reimbursed for,” said Bowley. “A $100 toll to cross into Manhattan is real cost and money out of that family’s pocket.” LL