March 2018

Overdrive Magazine | Trucking Business News & Owner Operator Info

Issue link: https://read.dmtmag.com/i/947211

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PULSE March 2018 | Overdrive | 5 Donald Trump, the "he-likes-to-build-things" president, hasn't made any friends in trucking with his 10-year plan to build things. The industry's biggest disappointment with his infrastructure plan was the call for allowing states discretion to toll interstates. Tolling's overhead costs have been estimated as high as 33 percent of revenue, far more than it costs to change a fuel tax rate. Tolling tends to force traffic to other roads, creating problems of congestion, safety and excessive wear. Partnering with private parties to build and operate toll roads raises questions of ethics and efficiency. Beyond tolling, the $1 trillion infrastructure plan that was a big part of Trump's campaign morphed into – voila! – a $1.5 trillion plan. Only it's not $1.5 trillion Trump wants to spend, but $200 billion. Of that, $100 billion supposedly would attract states, localities and the private sector to chip in. However, the match would be only 20 percent from the feds, inverting the traditional 80/20 percent federal/other contribution incentive. Many states for years have dug deep to pay for infrastructure expansion and repairs because lawmakers were too cowardly to fix the Highway Trust Fund's outdated fuel-tax formula. So assuming states are ready to write checks for 80 percent of their infrastructure needs is naïve at best. Even the $200 billion is misleading. The fis- cal 2019 budget request proposes cuts as high as $275 billion in roads, bridges and broader areas of infrastructure, Citylab.com reports. In this shell game, highway users lose. Days after Trump's infrastructure plan was released, he repeatedly proposed to a group of lawmakers the idea of raising gasoline and diesel taxes 25 cents per gallon. Is he serious? Maybe. He'd previously said he'd consider raising the federal gasoline tax, last increased in 1993. But if he is serious, why wasn't this part of the infrastructure plan? Serious or not, Republicans, like most congressmen over the last two decades, appear unwilling to champion a consumer tax. Fixing the trust fund, endorsed by many inside and outside of trucking, might be the best immediate solution to meeting infrastruc- ture needs. In the not-too-dis- tant future, though, the value of petroleum-based highway funding will shrink as elec- tric engines displace internal combustion engines. Writing in Wired magazine, Nick Stockton suggests making like Oregon and switching to a vehi- cle-miles-traveled tax. With the right wireless technology placed in vehicles and roads (granted, a huge qualifier), a VMT tax could be a fair, effi- cient way to collect tolls on all roads without all the problems of traditional tolling systems. That has its own hurdles to address, but it's a conversation that needs to start. We can't expect tomorrow's dwindling fossil-fuel-powered vehicles to adequately fund already un- derfunded highways while the e-powered elite rides free. Running out of gas mheine@randallreilly.com By Max Heine Editorial director Trump's infrastructure plan appears inadequate for catching up with needed investment. Long term, prospects for the gasoline- and diesel-funded Highway Trust Fund aren't good, either. money that could go toward construction instead going to corporate profits and adminis- trative costs." Dave Roozenboom, com- menting under the poll, put forward another concern shared by ATFI. "Any tolls will force trucks onto the two-lane roads, further congesting them and slowing deliveries!" — and, ATFI is quick to note, causing more safety issues than they could ever solve. Arguments in favor of more tolling often reference the reali- ty of the rise in electric vehicles and lawmakers' inability to sell increased fuel taxes to tax-wary constituents. Both realities leave diminishing fuel-tax revenue for road building and mainte- nance in their wake. Nonetheless, the principal vehicle for highway funding remains those fuel taxes. Some states have begun charging annual fees for electric vehicles to make up some of the difference. Turning existing long-open non-tolled lanes on federal-aid highways into tolled facilities is considered a particularly onerous move to many high- way users. It's a fact that none of the three open spots in the 1998 pilot program for tolling existing interstate lanes has ever been claimed successfully by any state. In some cases, applications to participate have fallen hard after strong local opposition. In October, the Federal Highway Administration quietly reopened those three spots in the old program for new applications. The Feb. 20 deadline for those applications was close at press time. FHWA noted that several states have expressed interest, but no appli- cations had been finalized.

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