Discounts for some, toll increases for others in Ohio

| Wednesday, January 14, 2009

OOIDA and trucking industry stakeholders warn that heavy trucks will divert to secondary roads in Ohio once a volume discount is eliminated and the way tolls are calculated changes.

The Ohio Turnpike Commission is set to increase tolls once in late 2009 and again in 2012. Part of the proposal is to implement E-ZPass on the turnpike and knock $2.50 from the $33.50 toll for a fully loaded truck making the full 241-mile trip.

Truckers with full loads who have E-ZPass will see their tolls decrease later this year, but underlying parts of the toll proposal aren’t sitting well with some groups.

Built into the proposal, for example, is a shift in the way tolls are calculated from vehicle weight to the number of axles.

Those truckers who find themselves deadheading between loads or who run light will see their tolls increase from about $24 to $33.50 – or $32 if they have E-ZPass.

Joe Rajkovacz, regulatory affairs specialist for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association – himself a former over-the-road trucker – said history shows what happens to truck traffic when tolls increase on a major route.

A 2007 study presented to the Transportation Research Board by authors Michael Belzer and Peter Swan showed that trucks diverted from the Ohio Turnpike when tolls were increased in the 1990s.

“As noted in the Belzer study, and more specifically as a practical matter from someone who did divert to other secondary, parallel highways in Ohio, the Commission is about to embark on a policy shift that will divert truck traffic off the toll road and onto less safe secondary roads,” Rajkovacz told Land Line.

“By making their decision solely on economic factors and not considering the safety implications and those associated costs to society, the Commission is doing a grave disservice to the citizens of Ohio and the motoring public. Essentially, they will be complicit in increasing Ohio’s highway death toll.”

The Belzer and Swan study further showed that truck traffic returned to the turnpike when the Ohio Turnpike Commission scaled back tolls in 2004 and the state reinstated uniform speed limits as an incentive to keep them there.

Ohio Turnpike Executive Director George Distel said he sees little incentive for fully loaded trucks to divert, particularly with the incentive to use E-ZPass.

“For a five-axle truck fully loaded at 80,000 pounds, take the rate they’re paying today and compare that to the E-ZPass rate being offered. That truck is going to stay on the turnpike,” Distel told Land Line.

Distel said the heaviest trucks cause the most damage to secondary, parallel highways, and that is good reason to keep the fully loaded trailers on the turnpike.

“It has never been the turnpike’s intent to hurt any of our vehicle classes,” he said. “What we’re doing is incentivizing the use of E-ZPass.”

Distel said once the new tolling schedule is approved, toll gantries and E-ZPass will be equipped at the turnpike’s 31 interchanges.

Another part of the Ohio plan involves the elimination of a 15 percent volume discount for trucking companies that currently spend more than $1,000 per month on the turnpike.

Larry Davis, president of the Ohio Trucking Association, said the elimination of the volume program and the proposed shift in toll calculation from weight to the number of axles could be a double whammy for some users.

“Today, it’s $33.50 for the full length for an 80,000-pound truck,” Davis told Land Line Now on XM Satellite Radio. “If you’re in the program, it’s a 15 percent reduction, which is down to $28.50. So, going up to $32, it’s going to be a $3.50 increase.

“On the other hand, if you run in the category of 40,000 pounds – empty – today it costs $24 and under our discount program that’s $20.40. Under this (proposal), it goes to $32, so that’s a 57 percent increase because they’re switching from weight to axle.”

Distel said the volume discount program is being eliminated because it will be a “nightmare to track” once E-ZPass is implemented.

Distel said turnpike officials took the soon-to-be-former volume discount into account when determining the toll increases. He said the increases could have been greater than being proposed without rolling previous discounts into the new rates.

Commercial trucks compose 20 percent of Ohio Turnpike traffic, but account for 55 percent of the revenue.

Ohio Turnpike commissioners have had three public hearings on the proposal and have concluded the comment period. However, a spokeswoman said the director welcomes comments at any time for consideration.

E-mail comments to toll.comments@ohioturnpike.org  or send mail or a fax to the following address:

Ohio Turnpike Commission
Attn: Public Affairs Department
682 Prospect St.
Berea, OH 44017
Fax: 440-234-3881

– By David Tanner, staff writer
david_tanner@landlinemag.com

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