Higher federal fuel taxes are the best way to fund repairs of crumbling roads and bridges that cost the trucking industry billions of dollars a year in lost productivity, according to Chris Spear, chief executive of the American Trucking Associations.
Spear made his pitch for higher fuel taxes at the ATA Management Conference and Exhibition in Austin, Texas, on Monday.
The federal tax on gasoline has remained constant at 18.4 cents per gallon and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel fuel since 1993, Spear said. Inflation has increased by more than 65 percent in the last 25 years.
“ATA is now well-positioned for an infrastructure debate, which we expect will occur in 2019,” Spear said. He said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports the ATA’s Build America Fund. It would raise $340 billion over 10 years for infrastructure improvements.
A typical driver would pay about $100 more in fuel taxes a year, less than they spend on vehicle repairs from roadway damage, said Rebecca Brewster, president of the American Transportation Research Institute. The ATRI is the research arm of the trucking trade group.
Motorists pay an average $590 annually on repairs from roadway damage like potholes and cracked pavement, according to an October 2018 study by TRIP, a non-profit transportation research group.
Trucking companies would pay about $2,100 more a year per heavy-duty truck in their fleets, she said.
Many Northeast and Northern states have raised fuel taxes in the last five years. Californians will vote next week on repealing a 12-cent-per-gallon increase signed into law last year.
The ATA proposal would raise the federal tax 5 cents a year for four years. It has found little support in Congress, regardless of which political party is in control.
“This is going nowhere, regardless of what happens in the election next week,” said Steve Tam, vice president of the commercial vehicle sector at ACT Research. “There is just not the will by either party in Congress to raise taxes.”
Spear said the gas-tax increase is “the most conservative and immediate way” to put money into the nation’s Highway Trust Fund. The fund began in the 1950s with the birth of the nation’s interstate highways. The federal fuel tax was designed to be its source of funding. It has stayed solvent in recent years by tapping other federal funds.
The trust’s balance fell nearly $10 billion in the last year to about $32 billion in September, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
At the ATA’s direction, the ATRI studied traffic congestion and bottlenecks. It pegged the cost to the trucking industry at $74.5 billion last year, largely because of a lack of road improvements. That equated to 1.2 billion hours of lost productivity, or 425,533 truck drivers sitting idle for a year. Yet the issue ranked only eighth on the ATRI’s list of Top 10 concerns released at the conference.
“It’s been on the list for a long time,” Brewster said. “Maybe people have just become used to it.”
Spear said the trucking industry must remain engaged on the issue and “hold our elected officials accountable.”
He said those who argue that toll roads are an equitable way of paying for infrastructure are wrong. The ATA and three carriers sued Rhode Island this year, arguing that “truck only” tolls in the state are unconstitutional.
Spear said Connecticut, Virginia and Indiana are other states eyeing tolls as the way to raise money for causes other than road improvements. The ATA is ready to go to court to fight “potentially contagious tolling policies,” he said.