Alabama truckers fight truck-only toll proposal in Mobile

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.

Proposed Mobile River Bridge conceptThe Alabama Department of Transportation and local planners in Mobile have proposed a bridge over the Mobile River intended for trucks only that would carry with it a $15 toll for trucks.

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.”

New partnerships for equipment lease/finance for ower-operators working within carrier's novel leasing model | Since it began operating in 2019, the CloudTrucks mid-size fleet has sought to deliver on a goal that company Cofounder and CEO Tobenna Arodiogbu said is to deliver efficiencies to its core customers -- not any shipper or broker but rather the stable of owner-operators hauling freight under its authority exclusively. 'Really what we've done is build a full business-management solution for owner-operators' as what he called a 'virtual carrier. ... [That includes] everything from helping them better manage their schedules' with proprietary technology in their hands, to generating 'more revenue by integrating with brokers to have one app to compare different rates,' and much more. That now includes what the company calls a 'Road to Independence' leasing/financing program aimed at company drivers who want to become small business owners but don't have access to favorable terms in traditional financing arrangements -- and would rather not participate in a carrier's in-house lease-purchase program. Under the terms of the program, drivers with at least three years of experience gain access to favorable terms to lease or purchase a truck from one of three partners: Premier Truck Group in Dallas, CrossRoads Leasing out West in California, or OTR Leasing in in the Midwest. CloudTrucks has also partnered with COOP by Ryder for daily and weekly rental truck options for those with shorter-term goals. For dealers considering financing a truck sale with a new owner-operator business, Arodiogbu said, too often the dealer looks skeptically at the new business's risk. 'There are a lot of people that look good on paper,' he said, but dealers worry about whether the individual ''might make enough money in the market -- how do I know they’re going to pay me versus other obligations? Those were the problems the dealers had – we showed them how CloudTrucks helps solve these problems' with its support tools for partner owner-operators to read what's happening in the market, understand rates, and effectively self-dispatch to stay loaded and profitable.New partnerships for equipment lease/finance for ower-operators working within carrier's novel leasing model | Since it began operating in 2019, the CloudTrucks mid-size fleet has sought to deliver on a goal that company Cofounder and CEO Tobenna Arodiogbu said is to deliver efficiencies to its core customers -- not any shipper or broker but rather the stable of owner-operators hauling freight under its authority exclusively. "Really what we've done is build a full business-management solution for owner-operators" as what he called a "virtual carrier. ... [That includes] everything from helping them better manage their schedules" with proprietary technology in their hands, to generating "more revenue by integrating with brokers to have one app to compare different rates," and much more. That now includes what the company calls a "Road to Independence" leasing/financing program aimed at company drivers who want to become small business owners but don't have access to favorable terms in traditional financing arrangements -- and would rather not participate in a carrier's in-house lease-purchase program. Under the terms of the program, drivers with at least three years of experience gain access to favorable terms to lease or purchase a truck from one of three partners: Premier Truck Group in Dallas, CrossRoads Leasing out West in California, or OTR Leasing in in the Midwest. CloudTrucks has also partnered with COOP by Ryder for daily and weekly rental truck options for those with shorter-term goals. For dealers considering financing a truck sale with a new owner-operator business, Arodiogbu said, too often the dealer looks skeptically at the new business's risk. "There are a lot of people that look good on paper," he said, but dealers worry about whether the individual ""might make enough money in the market -- how do I know they’re going to pay me versus other obligations? Those were the problems the dealers had – we showed them how CloudTrucks helps solve these problems" with its support tools for partner owner-operators to read what's happening in the market, understand rates, and effectively self-dispatch to stay loaded and profitable.

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

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