No cars allowed

Picture yourself cruising down an interstate that is free from annoying four-wheelers who cut you off, lurk in your blind spot and pass you – only to slow down as soon as they get in front of you. In this perfect world, the only vehicles allowed are trucks – driven by professional truck drivers.

Sound like a trucker’s nirvana? It is if you consider a nationwide network of truck-only toll lanes – or truckways – a little slice of heaven.

The idea comes from the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based think tank, and is endorsed by U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, and the National Safety Council. According to the foundation’s report, the truckways – which could be in service by the end of the decade – would sharply reduce car-truck accidents and cut trucking costs by $40 billion per year.

Here’s the plan: The truckways would be built next to existing freeways. They would have their own entrance and exit ramps and would be divided from car lanes by concrete barriers. Although users would pay hefty tolls – 40 cents to 80 cents per mile – they would not be charged state or federal fuel taxes or other user fees for the miles they drive on the truckways.

The idea requires government to ease its truck size and weight regulations, since the $40 billion in productivity gains comes from using longer combination vehicles that can move more freight faster. At the end of the truckways, LCVs would move to staging areas where they would be reconfigured into traditional tractor-trailer combinations before heading for their final destinations.

Far-fetched? Maybe. After all, the logistics of such a plan are mind-boggling. Where would these truckways be located? How would proponents get buy-in from the various political factions in trucking and government? And perhaps most importantly, what would be the real cost to truckers?

While there are uncertainties galore, this idea does underscore one fact: We must change the way freight moves across this country. As the population increases, so does demand for the goods you haul. In many areas, our congested infrastructure can barely handle today’s traffic load. What will it be like in 10 or 20 years?

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If nothing is done to ease our overburdened highways, we can be sure that the tension between cars and trucks will continue to grow, giving groups such as PATT and CRASH more political clout. Trucking’s public image will continue to worsen, government regulations will become increasingly burdensome and your job will get even tougher.

While truck-only tollways may not be the final answer to our crowded roadways, they are at least a step toward a solution. And that alone is a move in the right direction.

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