The National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board (TRB) recently met to assess whether changes to truck size and weight (TS & W) should be implemented. The nation’s scholars, engineers and infrastructure “wonks” came away from the conference with a consensual determination that there was not enough data to support changes and that further studies were needed before any revisions were made to either decrease or increase the allowable dimensions and weight on America’s highways and bridges. In fact, the group spent significant time developing a plan for future research on the TS & Weight issue because there are information gaps and inconsistencies in studies.
So why are DOT leaders around the country yelling “fire in the theater” as they pin the trucking industry with the ills of our infrastructure? Simple….trucking is an easy target and we’ve given very little indication that we’re not willing to pay a dime more. Instead, in trying to derail the inequity and inefficiency of tolls in general and truck-tolls locally, we continually espouse our industry’s willingness to contribute more and, in doing so, essentially implicate ourselves for the “crimes” we did not commit. Take the ongoing, false narrative of Governor Gina Raimondo and RIDOT Director Peter Alviti who, since May of 2015, have lobbied the voters for support of truck tolls by claiming that “trucks do all of the road and bridge damage” and “truckers don’t pay their fair share.” While the Rhode Island Trucking Association (RITA) pushes back on this, we, at the very same time, offer up more resources over what we already pay.
In countering truck tolls, RITA offered an increase of 19 cents per gallon on diesel. Guilty as charged – anything but tolls!!! Currently, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) is offering up 20 cents per gallon on the national fuel tax over the next four years in its Build America Fund. These are noble and generous offers from the trucking industry that has historically paid more than its fair share while, at the same time, saying we would pay even more if called upon. Rhode Island trucks paid $57 million in state and federal roadway taxes in 2016 which was 25% of the tab owed by all motorists despite representing only 6% of miles traveled in the state. The return favors for this generous position are an epidemic of tolls and abject lies about our industry.
Peter Vanderzee, President of Lifespan Technologies, continually questions the level of need for more infrastructure investment. Vanderzee, an expert on bridge assessment technology, a great source of information to RITA and a volunteer ally in its truck-tolling opposition, believes that the current state of antiquated, subjective bridge inspections allowed by FHWA allows for overly conservative ratings and, you guessed it, premature and unneeded expenditures on bridges and structures that have plenty of life. According to Vanderzee, state DOT’s who are reacting to the “truck damage narrative” are doing so without the benefit of consistent and reliable data to perpetuate and defend truck-only tolling actions. In fact, FHWA agrees with this viewpoint on the current state of bridge inspections. So we, as an industry, are forced to fight a war based on bad data , outright lies and a flawed system that government is aware of but is powerless or indifferent toward correcting?
Patrick Jones, Executive Director and CEO of the International Bridge and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) wrote that “heavy trucks are responsible for most of the damage done to the state’s bridges” in an article published by the Providence Journal in 2016, and Rhode Island’s elected and appointed leaders continue their campaign of lies and hyperbole aimed at fleecing our industry to cover their decades of sin, neglect and malfeasance. Critically, however, the findings – or lack thereof – of the very braintrust that is tasked with advising the federal government on this matter has just poured cold water on all of this baseless rhetoric. (View their report here: Research to Support Evaluation of Truck Size and Weight Regulations
Chris Maxwell is the President and CEO of the Rhode Island Trucking Association.