Supersized Freight Makes Case for Dedicated Toll Truckways

The Wall Street Journal reports (8/15/2010) on the economic war between railroads and trucks, pointing out the pressure to reduce costs is pushing for longer trains and trucks on the roads. Union Pacific recently tested a 3.4 mile long train through Southern California, and the average length of their intermodal trains increased by 15 percent in 2010 to meet rising demand. Truckers are hamstrung by federal and state laws that limit the weight and length of tractor trailers. Safety experts also worry that bigger trucks will swamp passenger cars.

All this brings up the question: Are we ready for truck-only tollroads? This is an elegant solution to a pressing economic and safety problem. As trucks get bigger, separating freight from passenger car traffic will become even more important. Why not let truckers get bigger and better roads dedicated to their needs as long as they are willing to pay for them?

Bob Poole helped pioneer this concept with a series of policy studies on toll truck roads. The first study, co-authored with Peter Samuel and Jose Holguin-Veras in 2002, explained the concept:

“This policy study offers a viable alternative: self-financing toll truckways. These toll truckways would consist of one or more lanes in each direction for sole use by large trucks, separated from existing lanes by concrete barriers, and generally equipped with their own ingress and egress ramps. These truck “freewayswithin-the-freeway” would be custom-built and designed for use by longer and heavier trucks, which would have exclusive rights to the lanes, and would keep the general motoring public free from exposure to big rigs in the mixed-traffic lanes. If permitted by the 2003 reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program, the first toll truckways could be in service by the end of the decade.”

This study was followed up by a frequently asked questions, an analysis of possible locations and corridors, and applications to Miami, Florida, and Atlanta, Georgia among others.

Perhaps the time has come to really put this concept to the test and ensure the U.S. trucking industry remains a viable competitor for long-haul freight.