Ohio Turnpike extends olive branch to truckers

| 8/31/2004

OOIDA: U.S. lawmakers should heed lesson learned in Ohio

In hopes of luring large trucks, the Ohio Turnpike Commission has taken steps to encourage truckers to drive on the toll way.

Congressional leaders in Washington, DC, could learn a lot from the events in Ohio, says the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

A recent decision by the Ohio Turnpike Commission increased the speed limit for large trucks to 65 mph, the same speed as all other vehicles, and cut the turnpike’s share of diesel sales revenue to enable fuel stops along the route to offer diesel up to 11 cents a gallon cheaper than nearby stations, Lauren Dehrmann, turnpike spokeswoman, said.

The new speed rule took effect Sept. 8. Cheaper diesel is expected to be available to truckers Oct. 1.

“Additional incentives for truckers are being discussed between the Ohio Turnpike Commission and the Ohio Department of Transportation,” said Dehrmann. “They plan to have some type of proposal drafted by the end of September that might include a reduction in tolls or a fuel rebate.”

Gov. Bob Taft, who endorsed the commission’s actions, is hopeful the changes for truckers will steer them off overloaded two-lane roads and back onto the toll road.

Truck traffic began spilling over to smaller roads after an 82 percent toll increase took effect in 1999.

“By moving trucks to the turnpike, we will reduce the truck traffic on these smaller routes, improve safety and shrink congestion levels that often gridlock many of our northern Ohio communities,” Taft said in a written statement.

While the recent developments in Ohio appear to be nothing but good news for truck drivers, Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president, warned about what the association cautions could be a trend toward the tolling of interstates nationwide.

“I’m glad Gov. Taft and the Turnpike Commission have seen the wisdom of recognizing a lose-lose situation for everyone with what’s going on with the speed limits and the Ohio Turnpike,” Spencer said. “Getting drivers off the less safe parallel routes is an appropriate and responsible initiative.

“However, what is happening in Ohio should not be lost on lawmakers in Washington, DC. If the U.S. Senate goes forward with its plan to toll interstate highways, the problems that Ohio is trying to correct will multiply across the nation.”

The Senate version of the transportation reauthorization bill includes a provision in Section 1609 allowing states to begin collecting tolls on existing interstate highways.

The toll option is also contained in the U.S. House’s version, within Section 1603. This section allows new tolls only on newly built highway lanes. Use of those lanes would be optional to drivers, and the toll would be imposed only as long as necessary to pay for the new lanes’ construction.

A group of select lawmakers from the House and Senate are scheduled to meet this fall to iron out their differences for a final version of the six-year highway bill.

-- by Keith Goble, state legislative editor