Recent talk in government circles about private truck lanes has the industry both excited and concerned. Fueled by a study recently released by the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based think tank, and bolstered by interest from U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), truck lanes are in play.
According to the report, the nation's trucking costs could be shaved by an astounding $40 billion annually, mainly because trucks using dedicated lanes could hit 65 mph, run doubles or triples on pavement designed to handle the high loads, and not have to worry about passenger cars.
“We could make significant increases in highway safety by adding heavy-duty truck lanes,” says the report's project director, Robert Poole Jr. He estimates that truck-only lanes could be built for $1 million to $3 million per lane mile in suburban and rural areas in the median strip of Interstate highways, or along the outside lanes in areas where adjacent land is cheap.
For additional safety, the lanes would be separated from passenger lanes by concrete “Jersey” barriers. Funding would come from issuing private or government/private revenue bonds and tolls of $0.40/mi to $0.80/mi. Revenues gained by increased productivity and safety would far outweigh any toll costs, says Poole.
The idea has reached influential ears. When the study's results were announced, Rep. Young said: “I've been convinced for a long time that the use of truck lanes and the exclusive right of way is very, very important to relieve congestion.” Young has been instrumental in raising funds for truck-favorable changes such as separate climbing lanes on Western roads.
While truck carriers may dream about such productivity and safety gains, they are cautious, according to Adam Cashman, manager, highway operations, for the American Trucking Assns. “Our members are leery of any tolls-especially on the Interstate highways,” he says. Currently, federal law prohibits tolls on Interstate highways, and carriers fear that any change in the law could encourage tolls to be levied nationwide. The 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) would allow tolls to be collected through a federally mandated pilot project. So far, no state has taken the bait, and the industry wants to keep it that way.
Although private truck toll roads exist, such as the Camino-Columbia Toll Road in Texas, which opened less than two years ago, the Interstate model has never been tried. There is discussion of adding truck-only lanes to I-81 in Virginia and a consortium dubbed “Star Solutions” is trying to gain traction with funders and state officials, but nothing has happened yet.
As it does with many things, California will probably lead the nation in Interstate truck lanes. Last spring, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) presented a plan to build the first phase of a truck-only system on four major highways, starting with four truck lanes (two in each direction) on a 37-mile stretch of the Pomona Freeway from downtown Los Angeles to Ontario, CA. The Pomona Freeway is one of the most heavily used truck routes in Southern California, with trucks comprising nearly half of all traffic.
The plan calls for trucks to operate along the right shoulder of the freeway, with separate on- and off-ramps. In areas where land is not available, trucks would drive on elevated lanes. Although the Pomona Freeway (SR-60) is not part of the Interstate highway system, its use and conversion closely mimics an Interstate model that SCAG plans to extend to other Interstate highways, including the Long Beach Freeway (I-710).
With congestion in Southern California worse than anywhere else in the nation, the questions of how to come up with $4 billion for planning and construction, and how much to charge in tolls are front and center. Stakeholders and others are long past any discussion of need.