Tolling, Highway Funding Topped NATSO's 2013 Concerns

As 2013 comes to a close, NATSO reflects on a busy year with many of its top issues in play. The association and the nation’s truckstop and travel plaza operators scored several major victories during 2013, particularly on the issue of tolling of existing interstates. As NATSO moves into 2014, the association will continue to protect the interests of interstate-based businesses.

Tolling of Existing Interstates
Tight budgets and declining fuel tax revenues caused several states to look at tolling as an option for funding infrastructure. Interstate-based businesses triumphed earlier this year in both North Carolina and Virginia—two states that were seeking to toll existing interstates under a federal pilot program.

In June North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed the Strategic Mobility Formula (H.B. 817) into law, which changed the way the state prioritizes road funding projects and limit the state's ability to impose tolls. A North Carolina technical corrections bill signed by Gov. Pat McCrory late this summer further strengthened the state transportation law and expressly prohibited the tolling of existing lanes.

In Virginia, the General Assembly approved landmark transportation legislation in February that included a provision to require legislative approval on tolls on I-95 south of Fredericksburg.. The transportation legislation put an end to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plan to toll I-95 and demonstrated growing opposition to tolls on existing interstates.

Despite these wins, tolling remains a threat. NATSO and the Alliance for Toll Free Interstates (www.tollfreeinterstates.com) will be working to ensure that existing interstates remain free of tolls, and will advocate for repeal of the tolling pilot program.

Rest Area Commercialization
In 2012, NATSO successfully defeated an attempt by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to overturn the law banning rest area commercialization. The vote—86-12—sent a powerful message to lawmakers and is likely to discourage future support for commercialization. However, NATSO continued to educate members of Congress throughout 2013 on the contributions of interstate-based businesses and how unfair competition from state-run concessionaires would jeapordize the highway service industry. This education will continue throughout 2014 as Conress begins considering a new transportation reauthorization bill.

Highway Funding
Transportation funding will be the focus of the next highway bill and lawmakers have said all funding options are on the table. Lawmakers at both the federal and state level have said they will consider raising fuel taxes. Transportation groups, including NATSO, AAA and the American Trucking Associations, have been asking Congress to increase the fuel tax over the last several years.  “Our federal fuel tax rate has been shrinking for decades,” said Lisa Mullings, president and chief executive officer of NATSO. “Since 1993, inflation has eroded the buying power of those 18.4 cents to just 11 cents.”  Throughout the year NATSO has monitored highway funding conversations and has stressed the efficiency of the fuel tax to fund the nation’s infrastructure.

Renewable Fuels Standard
The renewable fuel standard (RFS) was a hot topic on Capitol Hill during this year, with lots of talk about whether to repeal or reform the RFS, and debate about the “blend wall” approaching in 2014. In November EPA issued a proposal to use the agency’s waiver authority to adjust the RFS for 2014. In its proposed rule, EPA lowered the ethanol mandate and set reduced levels for other biofuels for a total of 15.21 billion gallons of renewables. The reductions were a recognition on the agency’s part that fuel consumption has declined over the last several years and that today’s retail fuel infrastructure is not able to handle ethanol blends greater than E-10. 

NATSO has been monitoring developments with the RFS because of the potential that as changes are made, fuel retailers, marketers and blenders could face burdensome new requirements, such as being an “obligated party” under the RFS or being required to sell certain fuel blends that retailers may not have the infrastructure to handle.

 

Brad Stotler's photo

Brad Stotler

Stotler represents the truck stop and travel plaza industry on legislative and regulatory issues related to transportation, fuels, labor and the environment. Prior to his advocacy experience at NATSO and in the trucking industry, Stotler worked as a Legislative Aide on Capitol Hill for an Illinois Congressman. Stotler graduated from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science, and has completed additional course work in a master's program at Johns Hopkins University.More
Source:
NATSO News Weekly (NNW)

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