OOIDA letter to House leaders

| Friday, February 20, 2004
The Honorable Don Young
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
The Honorable James L. Oberstar
Ranking Member
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
The Honorable Thomas E. Petri
Subcommittee on Highways, Transit and Pipelines
The Honorable William O. Lipinski
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Highways, Transit and Pipelines

Dear Chairman Young, Ranking Member Oberstar, Chairman Petri, and Ranking Member Lipinski:

     We want to bring to your attention an issue that is of great concern to our members.  A pilot program in Section 1609 of SAFETEA, the Senate highway bill, would allow up to three unspecified states to impose tolls on their Interstate Highways.  Another Section 1609 provision, the FAST Lanes Program, differs greatly from the FAST Lanes bill introduced in the House and Senate, and would give states virtually unchecked authority to impose tolls on Interstate Highways.  In addition, section 1603 of H.R. 3550, the Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (TEA-LU), is reserved for the "Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program," the title of the toll pilot program approved by the Senate.  Converting existing, general-purpose free lanes on Interstate Highways will make our roads less safe.  These tolls will also cause irreparable harm to businesses and communities for whom Interstates are their economic life-blood.  On behalf of the users of the highway system and businesses that are financially dependent on highways, we urge you to oppose these toll provisions.

     Highway users already pay more than $100 billion per year in federal, state and local highway user fees.  Tolls on existing, general-purpose freeways would amount to charging highway users rent on a facility that they have already paid for and continue to support through continued payment of fuel taxes, registration fees and other highway use taxes. Surveys consistently show that motorists object to paying tolls on existing toll-free lanes.

     Converting Interstates to toll roads will force motorists on to local roads, which are at least four times more dangerous than Interstates.  Tolls will increase traffic congestion on these local roads, disrupt communities, and result in unanticipated maintenance costs on arteries that were not designed to handle the type and volume of traffic that the diversion will cause. 

     Evidence for severe diversion of traffic due to Interstate tolls was recently uncovered by the Virginia Department of Transportation.  A VDOT-commissioned study found that truck tolls under consideration for Interstate 81 would result in 30-40 percent diversion of truck traffic to other roads.  Interestingly, the research found that while a significant amount of traffic would divert to local roads, a large number of trucks would use alternative Interstate Highways.  The study concluded that tolls would cause a shift of truck traffic from largely rural stretches of highway to more urban roads in congested cities such as Atlanta, Washington, DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

     Also affected will be the ability of state highway safety enforcement officials to ensure that trucks are in safe condition and operating at legal weights, and that drivers are in compliance with hours-of-service limitations and other safety regulations.  Since most weight and safety inspection stations are on the Interstate Highway System, a shift of truck traffic to local roads will affect states' ability to adequately inspect trucks and enforce highway safety laws.

     These traffic shifts will also have a severe economic impact.  Throughout the country, significant investments have been made to roadside businesses such as truck stops, hotels and motels, restaurants and gas stations.  Tolls, and the traffic diversion that comes with them, will negatively impact the ability of these companies to survive financially.  Furthermore, these businesses are often the largest employers in rural communities, and their demise might also spell economic disaster for local populations.    

     In addition, whether trucks pay the tolls or use less efficient alternate routes, the cost of truck-borne deliveries will increase for those businesses that rely on the tolled route for their shipments.  Because 68 percent of freight tonnage is moved by truck, the ability of these businesses to hold their costs down and compete in the global economy will be severely tested.

     The spread of tolls will erode the concept of a free-flowing Interstate Highway System that has served freight, tourist and commuter transportation needs well for many decades.  Please oppose conversion of existing, general-purpose freeways to Interstate toll roads during consideration of the highway bill.


American Trucking Associations National Association of Manufacturers
American Highway Users Alliance Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association
AAA  National Private Truck Council
American Bus Association Motor-Freight Carriers Association
American Motorcyclist Association National Automobile Transporters Association
Recreation Vehicle Industry Association NATSO, Inc.