Surface Transportation Innovations Newsletter

Surface Transportation Innovations #1

Issue devoted solely to toll truckways.

In this issue:

Toll Truckways: An Idea Whose Time May Be Arriving

Those of us who sound the alarm about insufficient investment in America’s highway infrastructure-and therefore believe we must increase the use of tolls and public-private partnerships-have long been faced with a dilemma. The main highway user groups (auto clubs and trucking organizations) have a long history of opposing any expansion of tolling, primarily on the grounds of “double taxation.”

In November 1999, at that year’s ARTBA Public-Private Ventures conference, I challenged the transportation community to take highway customers seriously. In particular, I said, we need to listen to their concerns about double taxation. Indeed, I suggested that with today’s electronic toll collection systems, it would be simple and inexpensive to keep track of the miles driven on new toll facilities and grant rebates of fuel taxes paid for those miles. The loss of revenue to highway trust funds would be small in comparison to the amount of new capacity that might be added by making tolled facilities politically do-able. Pete Ruane seconded these thoughts in his luncheon summary of the conference.

In November 2000 we published Peter Samuel’s policy study, “Putting Customers in the Driver—s Seat: The Case for Tolls.” In this piece, we documented the looming crisis in highway funding and made the case for 21st-century tolling. Our two key policy proposals, aimed at making tolling customer-friendly, were:

1) No double taxation: give rebates of fuel taxes for miles driven on (at least new) toll facilities, and

2) No more toll booths: make fully automated, highway-speed tolling (as on Toronto’s Highway 407) standard U.S. practice.

This spring we will be taking the next step, applying these ideas to the trucking sector. Our proposal is for Toll Truckways, which would be heavy-duty truck lanes added to existing Interstate and other National Network corridors. Aimed at meeting the trucking industry’s need for greatly increased productivity (via longer and heavier truck/trailer combinations), these new truck lanes would be paid for solely by tolls. Rebates of fuel taxes would be provided using mileage records compiled for each trucking firm by the Truckway’s electronic toll collection system. This research has been under way for about 18 months, by co-authors Jose Holguin-Veras (CCNY) and transport economist Peter Samuel. The study is in the final stages of editing, following peer review, and should be published by late Spring.

Interest in this issue has been sparked by several recent truck-toll developments around the country, as reported in the March 11 issue of the ATA’s Transport Topics. The nation’s first privately developed truck toll road, Camino Colombia, opened near the end of 2000 in Laredo, Texas, providing quick, uncongested access from the Colombia-Solidarity Bridge to I-35. In Los Angeles, the Southern California Association of Governments has completed the first of a set of feasibility studies on adding 133 miles of truck toll lanes to four highly congested freeways. And the Virginia legislature has just passed a measure to permit the addition of truck toll lanes to 325 miles of I-81. The latter proposal has aroused trucking industry opposition-predictably in our view, because it did not include either increased truck size and weight or rebates on fuel taxes. One or both of those features could be added during further stages of the approval process by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

That March 11 Transport Topics contained an excellent feature article on the growing use, worldwide and in the United States, of tolls and public-private partnerships. It also included a guest opinion piece by me, “Commercial Trucking Needs Commercial Highways,” which I’ve included as an attached file.

Toll Truckways could be an important feature of next year’s reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program. Our forthcoming policy study will include specific recommendations.

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Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation. Poole, an MIT-trained engineer, has advised the Ronald Reagan, the George H.W. Bush, the Clinton, and the George W. Bush administrations.

Surface Transportation

In the field of surface transportation, Poole has advised the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the White House Office of Policy Development, National Economic Council, Government Accountability Office, and state DOTs in numerous states.

Poole's 1988 policy paper proposing privately financed toll lanes to relieve congestion directly inspired California's landmark private tollway law (AB 680), which authorized four pilot toll projects including the successful 91 Express Lanes in Orange County. More than 20 other states and the federal government have since enacted similar public-private partnership legislation. In 1993, Poole oversaw a study that coined the term HOT (high-occupancy toll) Lanes, a term which has become widely accepted since.

California Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Poole to the California's Commission on Transportation Investment and he also served on the Caltrans Privatization Advisory Steering Committee, where he helped oversee the implementation of AB 680.

From 2003 to 2005, he was a member of the Transportation Research Board's special committee on the long-term viability of the fuel tax for highway finance. In 2008 he served as a member of the Texas Study Committee on Private Participation in Toll Roads, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. In 2009, he was a member of an Expert Review Panel for Washington State DOT, advising on a $1.5 billion toll mega-project. In 2010, he was a member of the transportation transition team for Florida's Governor-elect Rick Scott. He is a member of two TRB standing committees: Congestion Pricing and Managed Lanes.


Poole is a member of the Government Accountability Office's National Aviation Studies Advisory Panel and he has testified before the House and Senate's aviation subcommittees on numerous occasions. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Poole consulted the White House Domestic Policy Council and the leadership of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

He has also advised the Federal Aviation Administration, Office of the Secretary of Transportation, White House Office of Policy Development, National Performance Review, National Economic Council, and the National Civil Aviation Review Commission on aviation issues. Poole is a member of the Critical Infrastructure Council of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation and of the Air Traffic Control Association.

Poole was among the first to propose the commercialization of the U.S. air traffic control system, and his work in this field has helped shape proposals for a U.S. air traffic control corporation. A version of his corporation concept was implemented in Canada in 1996 and was more recently endorsed by several former top FAA administrators.

Poole's studies also launched a national debate on airport privatization in the United States. He advised both the FAA and local officials during the 1989-90 controversy over the proposed privatization of Albany (NY) Airport. His policy research on this issue helped inspire Congress' 1996 enactment of the Airport Privatization Pilot Program and the privatization of Indianapolis' airport management under Mayor Steve Goldsmith.

General Background

Robert Poole co-founded the Reason Foundation with Manny Klausner and Tibor Machan in 1978, and served as its president and CEO from then until the end of 2000. He was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition team in 2000. Over the years, he has advised the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations on privatization and transportation policy.

Poole is credited as the first person to use the term "privatization" to refer to the contracting-out of public services and is the author of the first-ever book on privatization, Cutting Back City Hall, published by Universe Books in 1980. He is also editor of the books Instead of Regulation: Alternatives to Federal Regulatory Agencies (Lexington Books, 1981), Defending a Free Society (Lexington Books, 1984), and Unnatural Monopolies (Lexington Books, 1985). He also co-edited the book Free Minds & Free Markets: 25 Years of Reason (Pacific Research Institute, 1993).

Poole has written hundreds of articles, papers, and policy studies on privatization and transportation issues. His popular writings have appeared in national newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, and numerous other publications. He has also been a guest on network television programs such as Good Morning America, NBC's Nightly News, ABC's World News Tonight, and the CBS Evening News. Poole writes a monthly column on transportation issues for Public Works Financing.

Poole earned his B.S. and M.S. in mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and did graduate work in operations research at New York University.