Trucking news and briefs for Thursday, May 27, 2021:
Alabama considers truck-only tolls in proposed new bridge
The Alabama Department of Transportation and local leaders in the Mobile, Alabama, area, are considering instituting truck-only tolls on a new proposed I-10 bridge over the Mobile River to ease congestion in the Wallace Tunnel in downtown Mobile.
The proposal calls for construction of a bridge over the Mobile River designated for the use of only large trucks over 46 feet long. These trucks would be prohibited from using the Wallace Tunnel and instead travel over the river on the truck bridge, paying a toll of no more than $15.
Construction of the truck bridge would also mean the signed hazardous cargo route would no longer have to pass through the Africatown community, and hazmat trucks would instead be able to use the new I-10 Mobile River Bridge.
Alabama Trucking Association President and CEO Mark Colson said in a letter Wednesday to the Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization and the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission that it supports efforts to relieve congestion in the I-10 Wallace Tunnel in Mobile but asked the groups to reconsider tolling only trucks using the bridge to help fund the project.
“According to local officials, Phase 1 of this project is estimated to cost $675 million with $125 million coming from the federal INFRA Grant, $250 million from state funding, and $300 million coming from bonded (borrowed) money to be repaid by placing a toll only on the trucking industry at $15 per trip,” Colson said. “In other words, the trucking industry is being asked to put up the same amount of money as the state and federal governments combined to initiate this project.”
The association added that, according to ALDOT, trucks account for 7-10% of the traffic count through the Wallace Tunnel, yet “the proposal being discussed places 100% of the cost burden on the commercial trucking industry.”
“Additionally, the proposal only targets a specific sector of commercial trucking: trucks 46 ft. in length or greater,” Colson added. “To date, no rationale has been provided to substantiate this decision. There are dozens of additional categories of large commercial trucks and vehicles under 46 ft. in length that make up thousands of daily vehicles that would continue to use the tunnel and not pay a toll.”
Colson also said ATA is concerned about “the likelihood that congestion will not be relieved since only a small proportion of the traffic is being diverted from the tunnel.”
Highway spending bill clears first of many hurdles
A bipartisan bill unanimously cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Wednesday, allocating $304 billion for road, bridge and highway programs over the next five years – a 34% increase from the current highway bill.
The progress of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 – which Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) called the "first major action on surface transportation since the FAST Act six years ago" that would "raise baseline funding for roads and bridges to an all-time high" – stands in stark contrast to President Joe Biden's multi-trillion dollar infrastructure package, which has been met with partisan resistance and a Republican counter-proposal that strips three-quarters of its funding.
Committee Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) noted the bill is flexible to states’ unique needs "and responsive to the urgent need for investment," while taking "meaningful steps to repair our country’s crumbling roads and bridges, [creating] jobs," simplifying permitting and expanding "the climate title."
The proposal includes $2.5 billion to create alternative fuel corridors along the National Highway System and build out electric vehicle charging infrastructure in communities across the country and calls for $18 billion in climate programs, including $6.4 billion for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and $8.7 billion to increase resilience to climate change and extreme weather.
“The passage of the roads bill provides renewed optimism for a timely, bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization," said National Association of Counties (NACo) Executive Director Matthew Chase.
Counties own 44% of the nation’s road miles and nearly 40% of all bridges, including 62% of those considered "off-system."
"Consistent federal investment through a new, long-term surface transportation reauthorization, developed in consultation with federal, state and local partners, would allow counties to undertake much-needed infrastructure improvement and development projects," Chase said.
National Association of Truck Stops and Travel Plazas (NATSO) President and CEO Lisa Mullings called the bill "a critical step in ensuring that we adequately fund surface transportation and address the nation’s infrastructure needs."
The Senate bill does not include any initiatives that would expand tolling or scale back the prohibition on commercial activities at Interstate rest areas.
The House will consider its own highway reauthorization bill next month. –Jason Cannon, CCJ Editor