Tollways for Trucks: a $40-billion annual cut in shipping costs?

Toll truck lanes, separated from car traffic by concrete barriers on inter-city highways, would significantly reduce the number of car-truck accidents and cut the nation's trucking costs by as much as $40 billion per year, according to a new study by Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based think tank.

U S House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and the National Safety Council are among those expressing support for the toll truckways concept.

"Toll truckways would be 'freeways-within-the freeway' and provide a system geared toward safer, more productive trucks," said Robert Poole, director of transportation studies at Reason Foundation and co-author of the report. "These lanes offer greater protection from car-truck accidents while also permitting trucking and shipping companies to run larger, more economical rigs."

The report, Toll Truckways: A New Path Toward Safer and More Efficient Freight Transportation, proposes long distance, inter-city toll truck lanes that would be added to existing interstate highways. The truckways would be separated from regular traffic by continuous concrete Jersey barriers. The truck lanes would have their own entrance and exit ramps - to avoid mixing heavy truck traffic with car traffic in the regular lanes.

"Toll truckways would reduce the number of trucks sharing highway lanes with cars and should produce a significant reduction in car-truck accidents," Poole stated. "Trucking companies will be willing to pay tolls to use the lanes because they will significantly cut costs by delivering larger loads faster and with greater reliability."

In fact, the authors analyzed five different truck size and weight scenarios used by the U.S. Department of Transportation and found the use of Longer Combination Vehicles could reduce trucking costs in the United States by between $10 and $40 billion per year. Furthermore, with specialized truck lanes, federal and state governments would experience reduced road maintenance expenses and avoid the costs of upgrading all travel lanes to accommodate heavier loads.

Longer Combination Vehicles (LCVs), tractor-trailer combinations (doubles and triples) that weigh more than 80,000 pounds, would be allowed on the toll truckways. LCVs are currently allowed in some western states and turnpike states. In states where they are not presently permitted, LCVs would be restricted to the truck-only lanes and thus would not mix with car traffic or be allowed in urban areas. Trailer combinations would be assembled and disassembled in staging areas near the truckways, enabling conventional combinations (usually a regular tractor/trailer) to make use of local freeways at existing weight and length limits.

The proposal calls for the truckways to be financed by toll revenue bonds, backed by the projected toll revenues, not by underlying recourse to the taxpayers. After analyzing a wide variety of feasibility and productivity scenarios, the authors concluded the truckways could be self-supporting, using tolls to recover the costs of construction and of operating and maintaining the lanes. A reliable toll revenue stream means that toll revenue bonds could be issued to cover construction costs, either by a private firm under a long-term franchise agreement or by a state toll-road authority. This kind of financial structure provides strong incentives against toll truckways being built where they aren't needed and might fail.

"Taxpayers won't bear the costs of building or maintaining these roads," Poole said. "The productivity gains that trucking companies will experience are huge and the lanes will be self-supporting with tolls ranging from 40 to 80 cents per mile."

Toll truckways would also produce significant environmental benefits. The DOT's Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study (August 2000) estimates that nationwide use of LCVs would produce a 6 to 12 percent reduction in truck fuel usage and a reduce truck miles traveled by 8 billion miles per year.

The report also includes an in-depth viability analysis of toll truckways and two possible scenarios for the introduction and expansion of the lanes. The full study can be found online at www.rppi.org/ps294.pdf.

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