Using a portion of a diesel fuel tax increase to pay for dedicated truck-only lanes could be a viable way to alleviate congestion on the existing U.S. interstate highway system, an American Trucking Associations (ATA) representative told lawmakers.
Testifying on Sept. 11 before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on behalf of the ATA, Darren Hawkins, president and CEO of YRC Worldwide, conceded that he wasn’t an expert on all highway infrastructure or how to pay for it. But when asked whether he would support such a measure by Representative Mark Pence (R-Indiana), Hawkins responded, “I’m a fan of any opportunity to make sure that the 71% of our nation’s goods and the delivery mechanisms for those goods are protected over a long period of time, and I think what you’ve talked about would accommodate that.”
Hawkins acknowledged during the hearing – titled “Pricing and Technology Strategies to Address Congestion on and Financing of America’s Roads” – that the trucking industry must work with lawmakers to ensure congestion mitigation measures take into account other factors such as the environment. “But at the end of the day I think solutions like that would help move us down the road,” he said.
Truck-only “critical commerce corridors” were included as part of a National Freight Strategic Plan within the 2015 FAST Act highway bill. As envisioned by Pence, the lanes would be built with “increased pavement depths” to reduce the amount of repairs needed.
“For trucks, predictability of shipments would be greatly enhanced, with the potential for drafting and platooning, not to mention the safety of separating the cars and the trucks,” Pence said. They would be paid for by “walling off” a portion of the funds generated from an increase in the diesel fuel tax that would be used for the lanes.
Hawkins made it clear, however, that ATA continues to oppose tolling existing highways as a way to pay for infrastructure, pointing out that his company, YRC, pays $25 million in tolls annually.
“Tolls will not solve the most important challenge facing this committee: the impending bankruptcy of the highway trust fund [HTF],” Hawkins said. “Failure to address the shortfall will continue to induce states to consider bad options like tolls. ATA and nearly every organization that cares about surface transportation efficiency has proposed an increase in the fuel tax to address these needs.”
Hawkins reiterated the ATA’s call for a five-cent increase in the fuel tax each year for the next four years to generate $340 billion for the HTF.
He also cited YRC’s fuel bill – $25 million per month – and the fuel-cost savings that electric trucks will eventually offer large trucking companies. “With the number of tractors that we have, it’s very important to us how this evolves over time,” Hawkins said. “I’m a big fan of electrification, but as I look at the highway trust fund, [raising] the fuel tax is the appropriate measure for now because of the urgency of the situation and the potential insolvency [of the HTF] by 2021.”