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45 Unexpected Impacts on to customers. Trucking firms are affected in two ways. The amounts of fuel taxes (or any other use taxes not specific All the industry experts the research team interviewed be- to a particular segment) affect total vehicle miles of travel lieve that Congress is paying little attention to the likelihood (VMT) of highway freight, just as any other cost of truck op- of a significant infrastructure failure on the inland water- eration does. Tolls will also affect which roads truckers use, way system. These industry expects offer several reasons for and peak-period pricing will have some effect on when they this lack of attention. One is the constrained fiscal condi- use them. tion of the Federal government. Congress has been reluc- All charges to truckers affect the total cost of highway freight tant to provide increased resources for infrastructure even carriage and, therefore, the relative costs of highway and rail where there is widespread support for such increases. Con- carriage. The relative costs of these modes determine, in part, gress likely does not see failure of inland navigation facili- their relative shares of freight traffic. Beyond that, however, the ties as life-threatening events, even though flood control overall efficiency of the freight system is affected if the highway was one of the original reasons for building the system of dams on the Mississippi and its major tributaries. The po- charges paid by truckers do not reflect the full costs of truck use litical pressure generated by a bridge collapse with loss of of the highways. There is an economic cost to society when the life is not present here. relative costs of competing modes are skewed by public pol- To the extent that the issue gets consideration, it may be icy. Most observers believe that 5-axle trucks (18-wheelers) do seen as a case in which the maximum damage would be a not generate sufficient user charges to cover their direct cost temporary increase in the cost of moving certain commodi- impacts on highways. The most recent Highway Cost Alloca- ties and, therefore, an issue not meriting a high priority in tion Study from FHWA found that heavy 5-axle trucks met the use of scarce funds. On September 29, 2009, the 1,200-foot 80 percent of their cost responsibility.55 The transportation main chamber of Markland Locks and Dam on the Ohio economists interviewed for this study were essentially in River failed. It is still out of service, and traffic is using the agreement that underpricing of highway use by heavy trucks 600-foot auxiliary with substantial delays. It will be instruc- leads to a loss of economic efficiency as the nation uses more tive to see what response, if any, this outage brings from truck carriage and less rail carriage than the underlying real Congress. costs would indicate. One potential operational impact of new tolls is diversion-- Highway Tolls and Other truckers taking to alternate routes, frequently lower grade User Charges roads--in order to avoid tolls. One trucking executive said his firm diverted from all tolled roads without exception. An- Policy Description other said his firm would avoid tolls on existing roads, but Highway construction and maintenance are largely paid would do a benefit-cost analysis of using a tolled road with for with revenues from fuel taxes and other user charges, in- new capacity. The executives pointed out that diverting to cluding tolls. Both the Federal government and states impose avoid a toll does not save them the full amount of the toll, be- fuel taxes. States, regional authorities, local governments, and cause operating costs will rise, and speed will fall, on most al- private facility operators can set highway and bridge tolls. The ternate routes. The crash rate is also likely to be higher. For a levels and forms of these taxes and charges affect the use of more detailed assessment of tolling impacts, see Appendix B. different parts of the system and the levels of use by different Recent work on toll roads in Ohio has shown that the elas- groups of vehicles. ticity of truckers' demand for tolled, high-quality roads is about The form of charges can also affect the time of day at which 0.13 (e.g., doubling tolls would lead to 13 percent diver- different groups use certain segments. This would be the case sion).56 Given the high volumes of truck traffic on these roads, with prices that vary, in some fashion, with level of use. that means a significant increase in truck traffic on alternate Charges of this nature are intended to reduce congestion at routes--two-lane roads in many cases. Thus, in addition to peak-demand times. Where tolls are used primarily to re- increased operating costs for trucking firms, there are addi- cover the cost of infrastructure, they tend to be flat charges, tional costs to society in terms of increased congestion and often with higher charges for heavier vehicles. Most tolls are increased crash rates on the alternate routes. intended for cost recovery, although there is increasing use of variable pricing to reduce congestion. 55 USDOT, FHWA, 2000 Addendum to the 1997 Federal Highway Cost Alloca- Policy Impacts tion Study, May 2000. 56 Peter Swan and Michael H. Belzer. "Empirical Evidence of Toll Road Traffic Tolls, in particular, affect freight carriage because tolls are Diversion and Implications for Highway Infrastructure Privatization," 2007, operating costs for trucking firms that can't easily be passed submitted for presentation at the 2008 TRB meeting.