Florida nears new rules on tolls, trails, truck idling

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, May 16, 2014

A lengthy Florida transportation bill would authorize more tolls, raise more money for roads, and boost the incentive for truckers to avoid idling.

The 128-page transportation funding bill swept through the Legislature by unanimous consent. The bill’s final stop is Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

If signed into law, one provision in the bill would authorize tolls on new highway capacity. Specifically, tolls could be collected on new highways, express lanes and managed lanes. Highway users would be charged via a cashless or toll-by-plate system.

A separate provision would forbid the state from entering into any new lease-purchase agreements with any expressway authority or regional transportation authority. Agreements in place by July 1, 2013, would not be affected.

Another provision would raise new revenue for roads via cellphone towers on state property. The Florida Department of Transportation would be authorized to partner with wireless companies that want towers near state roads.

Permission is also included in the bill to make available “commercial sponsorship displays” on state trails.

Currently, fuel taxes, vehicle fees and tolls are used to pay for upkeep of trails and related facilities.

The bill would use revenue raised through sponsorships for upkeep.

Another provision in the bill would boost the incentive for truckers to avoid idling.

States were given the ability in 2005 to allow heavy-duty trucks to exceed the 80,000-pound maximum weight limit to encourage the use of idling-reduction equipment.

In recent years many states have adopted rules to increase the weight limits for trucks equipped with auxiliary power units up to an additional 400 pounds.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 30 states have laws that authorize the weight allowance for commercial vehicles. There are 15 states where the weight allowance is granted by enforcement policy rather than by state law.

States yet to permit the 400-pound exemption are California, Hawaii, Kentucky, North Carolina and Rhode Island. The weight allowance doesn’t affect state highway funding eligibility.

The 2012 federal transportation law included a provision to allow states to increase their APU weight exemption another 150 pounds to 550 pounds. The change is intended to accommodate newer technologies available for truckers that consume less fuel, but weigh more.

The Florida bill, HB7175, would add the state the list of eight states to authorize APU exemptions up to 550 pounds. The states are Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Virginia. A Maryland law takes effect Oct. 1.

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