U.S. truckers rally against more private toll roads

GRAPEVINE, Tex. — The American Trucking Associations’ Board of Directors is stepping up its strong opposition to the privatization or leasing of existing toll facilities to fund highway infrastructure projects.

At the 2006 Management Conference and Exhibition in Grapevine, Tex., ATA President and CEO Bill Graves called on government to abandon these financing techniques, which generate revenue “at great expense to the trucking industry and taxpayers and with potential negative impacts on highway safety, security and the motoring public.”

The ATA wants a toll-free national highway system where funds to finance highway improvement primarily come from highway user fees such as the fuel tax.

“Policymakers have to ask if it’s worth the economic risk and loss of control in determining the future use, renovation and expansion of our nation’s vital strategic assets, of which highway infrastructure may be of greatest importance,” Graves said. “ATA is prepared to lead a national coalition of highway users in opposition to these financing schemes that offer a short-term windfall but a long-term recipe for disaster.”

Graves cited the sheer volume of freight moved by truck, the pervasive number of communities served by trucks, and the trucking industry’s relevance in responding to natural disasters as benchmarks for gauging ATA’s position.

New DOT secretary Mary Peters, a former administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, is considered an advocate of further tolling and privatization of highways and bridges.

Before her appointment as DOT chief by President George Bush, she was hailed by the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) for her “thorough understanding of the nation’s transportation funding crisis and for her willingness to seek innovative financing methods.”

ATA has established a 10-point policy on privatization for those cases where toll facilities might end up in the hands of the private sector.

Some of the recommendations include: Setting toll rates that only cover costs related to the toll facility plus a reasonable return on investment; providing adequate facilities for the trucking industry; rebating state fuel taxes paid by facility users; applying constraints on private operators’ ability to impose fees and restrictions on vehicles; preventing clauses that restrict improvements to competing roads; and creating performance specifications that ensure operations and maintenance which guarantee safety and provide for acceptable traffic flows.

Any privatization agreement also should create an oversight group with representation from major stakeholders, ATA says, including the trucking industry.

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