The Trump Administration on Feb. 12 officially rolled out its proposal for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, which contains several policy provisions that would crush the truckstop and travel plaza industry.
The document, which largely mirrors the proposal leaked to the press in mid-January, fails to address the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund or long-term sustainable funding for infrastructure. It makes no mention of increasing the motor fuels taxes as a means of increasing infrastructure revenues, despite previous statements from the President that he was open to the idea.
The document also confirms the Administration’s intent to shift the responsibility for financing infrastructure projects from the federal government to the states and the private sector.
Of importance to truckstops and travel plazas, the Administration’s plan calls for allowing states more flexibility to toll on interstates. It further calls for providing states with the ability to commercialize interstate rest areas.
Under the proposal, $200 billion of infrastructure investment would come from the federal government. The plan, which is designed to serve as a guide for lawmakers who ultimately must write the legislation, also places a premium on states and local governments that secure their own money for infrastructure projects. It would also carve out $50 billion for rural infrastructure projects and revamp federal permitting.
NATSO thinks it is imperative that the federal government maintain its strong national role in infrastructure development, and not relinquish its responsibility to the states or the private sector.
NATSO has urged the Administration to seek sustainable solutions to funding infrastructure that don’t harm American businesses and highway users, such as increasing the nation’s motor fuels taxes.
“Interstate tolls cost the government significantly more to administer and enforce than the existing motor fuels tax,” NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings said in a statement to media. “Why would anyone fail to support an increase in the fuel tax and, at the same time, work to create another type of tax (such as toll roads) that costs more to collect than the fuel tax?”
Toll roads cost more than the fuel tax for the government to administer and divert traffic to secondary roads. This diversion not only damages these roads, it increases accident rates.
NATSO also strongly disagrees with the White House proposal to commercialize rest areas. Rest areas built after 1960 can only sell vending machine items. Rest areas before this date can sell food and fuel, and as a result have stifled business growth at the exits; in counties with commercial rest areas, there are 56 percent fewer restaurants, convenience stores and truckstops than other counties.
“We urge the President to reverse his support for rest area commercialization. Commercialization allows the government to hand-pick one company to operate exclusively at the state rest areas; this company behaves as a monopoly simply by virtue of its location on the highway shoulder or median,” Mullings continued.
The American Trucking Associations also pressed the Trump Administration for greater infrastructure funding saying that while the White House’s plan kick starts this debate, it "falls short" of the President’s campaign promise to go big and bold, because it lacks the required federal investment.
"A proposal that relies on fake funding schemes like highway tolls and privatizing rest areas will not generate the revenue necessary to make significant infrastructure improvements," ATA said.
Nearly 97,000 gas stations, truck service businesses and restaurants operate within a quarter mile of the Interstate Highway System, employing more than 2 million Americans. These businesses are the economic backbone of off-highway communities, providing jobs and supporting the local tax base in the majority of small towns across America, contributing billions in state and local taxes.
Furthermore, as truckstops and other businesses currently located at the exit interchanges fail to thrive, they would no longer be able to invest in truck parking capacity, undercutting a key priority of the Department of Transportation. A new report, titled Rest Area Commercialization and Truck Parking Capacity 2018, issued last week by NATSO finds 69 percent more truck parking spaces per mile along interstate highways where the private sector caters to the needs of the traveling public free from government competition at commercial rest areas.
While Mullings cautioned lawmakers to avoid actions that would close businesses and put people out of work, she also emphasized that the association strongly supports increasing federal investment in infrastructure through a fuel tax increase.
Among wealthy countries, no one wastes more money sitting in traffic than Americans do. On average, a motorist in the U.S. spends an extra $1,200 because of congestion, and this doesn’t even take into account the hundreds of dollars in car repairs caused by potholes and other poor road conditions or car accidents due to dangerous roads.
The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates said the White House infrastructure plan is an about-face of President Trump’s commitment to putting America First. "Although then-candidate Trump campaigned against lining the pockets of Wall Street and promised to be the voice for the working class, this plan does the opposite and unfairly shifts the burden of infrastructure funding to states and localities," ATFI said.
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