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Gateless Tolling Coming to Ohio Turnpike

Andrew J. Tobias | Cleveland.com July 12, 2021 1:30 PM, EDT

No EZPass? State Hopes to Bill You by Mail

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Turnpike is looking for new legal power to bill freeloading drivers as it prepares to institute no-stop, electronic toll lanes as part of a modernization plan it hopes will speed up traffic across the state.

Senate Bill 162 would allow the turnpike to issue first- and second-notice bills to drivers who drive through the planned “open road” gateless lanes without the electronic EZPass radio transponder used to automatically pay electronic tolls. Turnpike officials plan to open the new lanes, some of which drivers could zoom through at highway speeds, instead of stopping at gates like they do now, beginning in 2023.

The proposed law change, which unanimously cleared the Senate in June and now goes to the House for consideration, would set up an appeals process through which drivers could first visit the turnpike offices in Berea, and then the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, to contest having to pay.

If the law change is approved, turnpike officials would identify drivers who don’t pay through cameras that would snap a picture of the vehicle’s license plate, and use it to mail them a bill. A list of drivers with unpaid tolls would be provided to the Ohio BMV, which then would block registration renewals until they’re paid. The gateless lanes would operate alongside traditional, gated lanes manned with human toll workers, although turnpike officials say the long-term plan is to completely automate the toll-taking process.

Officials said the changes are necessary as the turnpike gears up for its modernization plan, which has been years in the making. The idea is for the road to be faster, allowing vehicles to cross the state without ever stopping, and more convenient for customers, turnpike officials said.

“This legislation will protect the commission’s ability to remain fiscally sound, by ensuring it has the ability to collect tolls, and prevent customers from abusing the new modernized system that has thus far been four years in the making,” Ferzan Ahmed, the turnpike’s top administrator, told state lawmakers at a committee hearing in June.

With the gateless lanes, the number of toll plazas on the turnpike would be reduced from 31 to 24 and entry gates would be removed. The high-speed gateless lanes would be set up for the turnpike’s western 50 miles, ending west of Toledo, and then for the eastern 30 miles, between the Streetsboro area and the Pennsylvania border. The middle part of the turnpike would have gateless lanes, but at which drivers will have to slow down to 10 miles per hour.

Eventually, the turnpike aims to set up the highway-speed, gateless lanes for the entire 241-mile toll road. Part of the reason they aren’t doing so initially is so they can adjust economically, since they expect to not be able to collect all the tolls from people who drive through the lanes without paying.

Tom Balzer, president of the Ohio Trucking Association, said the trucking industry is eager to see electronic tolling. He said the roads are busier than ever, even with some of the hiccups associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Anything we can do to improve the efficiency of our industry is something that we support,” he said.

Turnpike officials say the changes will cost up to $232 million, while saving $257 million in operating costs over 30 years, due to the reduction in plazas and phasing out of employees. The plan is for the turnpike to eventually adopt completely electronic tolling, but in the immediate future, turnpike officials say any reduction in the Turnpike’s 274 human toll collectors will happen through attrition or transfers, not layoffs.

The new system is under construction, and assuming the law change passes, expected to be open to drivers in spring of 2023, according to Ahmed.

Pennsylvania adapted all electronic tolling last year, initially during the coronavirus pandemic and now permanently.

ATA Launches Efforts to Help Texans Battered by Storm

Freight Waves, Connor Wolf, Monday, February 22, 2021

American Trucking Associations has launched a relief effort aimed at helping those in Texas and Louisiana impacted by the recent deadly snowstorm.

In Texas, residents were left without power and water after a historic snowstorm hit the state earlier this month. With efforts underway to restore utilities and provide relief to those in need, ATA launched an effort to get clean water to residents.

“We are asking our trucking family to not only keep all those affected in your thoughts and prayers, but to help ATA coordinate relief efforts,” ATA President Chris Spear said in a Feb. 19 letter to members. “Our friends in Texas need your help.”

At around the same time, the federation had plans underway to get two truckloads delivered to Shreveport, La., which also felt severe effects from the unusual weather for the region.

For both states, each truckload carried 20 pallets with an estimated 960 cases of water. And more shipments were in the pipeline, ATA said, once trucks and drivers were lined up.

In Texas, the earliest shipments were delivered to recipients with the greatest need, including Houston Memorial Hermann Hospital and Catholic Charities of Central Texas. The Texas Trucking Association and the Southwest Movers Association are helping to coordinate those relief efforts on the ground.

“We have a pipeline of support that we can tap when these things come up,” Texas Trucking Association President John Esparza told Transport Topics on Feb. 22. “We start plugging in what we know and where we know [help is needed], whether it’s moving generators or locating potable water or just resourcing water to be used in boilers. You name it. We’re looking to connect to people within the trucking universe to be able to help and they very much responded.”

Esparza noted that the state has a good level of preparedness to coordinate relief efforts due to experience with past natural disasters like hurricanes. While the snowstorm presents different challenges, knowing whom to contact for emergency management or to move supplies is the same, he said. Esparza noted that uncertainty created by the fast-changing situation with the current relief effort is a challenge, but said drivers who have volunteered are providing constant updates about road conditions and availability of fuel.

“A lot of that stuff has to be triaged by the hour,” Esparza said. “Just anything we can do with boots on the ground to evaluate the situation hour by hour as we are going through this.”

In Louisiana, over-the-road carriers Preferred Materials has been helping coordinate efforts between local trucking companies, the state trucking association and ATA.

“We have been working diligently in aiding both state and local governments in relief efforts, as well as working with our area hospitals to provide them with much-needed water 24 hours a day,” company president David Todd Ruple said in a statement to TT. Ruple said he expected to be providing water to area hospitals at least through the week of Feb. 22, and noted that while southern states simply weren’t prepared for such a severe snowstorm, he was glad to see the industry leading the relief effort.

“I am proud of our trucking community,” Ruple said. “We did and are doing what we always do — pulling together and getting much-needed supplies and goods delivered to those in need. That is the heart of the truck driver — to serve others and their communities regardless of the obstacles and hardships they may face.”

ATA is asking members, affiliates and others to consider donations of cash, supplies or transportation to assist with storm relief efforts.

Senators Aim to Produce Five-Year Highway Bill Before August Recess

www.ttnews.com, Eugene Mulero and Lianna Norman, July 10, 2019, 5:15 pm

Senators Aim to Produce Five-Year Highway Bill Before August Recess

Sen. John Barrasso, D-Wyo.“It is our shared goal to advance a bill out of committee this summer. Our roads and bridges are in need of a serious investment,” Sen. John Barrasso. D-Wyo., told senior transportation officials. (C-SPAN)

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WASHINGTON — The first version of what could become the country’s next major highway policy bill will be unveiled in the Senate prior to Congress’ recess in August, surface transportation policymakers announced July 10.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee intends to consider a five-year highway bill, kicking off reauthorization of the FAST Act, a five-year highway law that expires in October of next year.

Details regarding the upcoming legislation’s proposals have not been announced. The committee’s leadership also left funding questions about the legislation to the congressional tax-writing panels.

The funding authority for a highway account that is backed by dwindling revenue from the federal fuel tax is rolled into the massive highway bill.

“It is our shared goal to advance a bill out of committee this summer,” committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told senior transportation officials from around the country at a hearing about the upcoming legislation. “Our roads and bridges are in need of a serious investment. … If we do not pass a long-term surface transportation bill, and instead pass a series of short-term extensions, we will undermine our states’ abilities to plan for these challenges.”

“The idea is to get it done by that time, and there’s a great spirit of cooperation here. The hard part is, actually as you heard here, how do we pay for this,” Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the panel’s top Democrat, told reporters after the hearing.

“What we need to do is to put out a good bill that addresses a bunch of the concerns that others talked about and sets the stage for the work that needs to be done in the Finance committee and Ways and Means committee,” Carper added.

Improving freight connectivity, the overall safety of travelers, guidelines for autonomous vehicle technology and access to transit systems are priorities policymakers have expressed an interest in pursuing.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.

Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the panel’s top Democrat, said the hardest part of the highway bill is figuring out how to pay for it. (C-SPAN)

For Barrasso, streamlining the environmental permitting process is an area he intends to promote. As he put it, “By cutting Washington red tape, highway projects can get done better, faster, cheaper and smarter.”

“In our legislation, we must reduce the time it takes for federal permitting, we need to lower paperwork burdens on states, and we need to incorporate innovative construction approaches and other technologies,” the chairman added.

For Carper and his Democratic colleagues, the next highway bill would need to enhance infrastructure projects’ ability to remain functional after severe storms or floods.

“Smart planning and targeted investments in the resiliency of our nation’s infrastructure will ensure that roadways can better withstand these worsening effects of climate change,” Carper said. “This will save American taxpayers untold billions by allowing us to avoid rebuilding the same infrastructure projects again and again after severe weather events.”

A House committee has not scheduled consideration of its version of the highway policy bill.

Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Luke Reiner

Reiner

Various industry stakeholders have urged highway policy authorizers to finalize a multiyear highway bill prior to the FAST Act’s expiration in 2020. They also advocate for the long-term solvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund account.

Groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have endorsed increasing the federal fuel tax to bolster the fund. Revenue from the federal 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax and 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax set in 1993 is insufficient to assist states with construction and maintenance projects in the coming years.

At the hearing, Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Luke Reiner recommended senators guarantee robust funding for rural corridors and minimize regulation deemed burdensome in the project delivery process. He also emphasized benefits from having a federal multiyear highway bill. “This is essential for states to be able to effectively deliver the program,” Reiner said.

Carlos Braceras, president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials

Braceras

Carlos Braceras, president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, echoed Reiner’s remarks, adding Congress also should promote state agencies’ development of innovative technology. After the hearing, Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, again called for the timely reauthorization of the FAST Act to avoid short-term authorizing extensions of federal programs. He also applauded the Senate panel’s upcoming highway bill markup.

“I think it’s remarkable that EPW is doing a markup so early,” Braceras told Transport Topics. “I don’t know if I’ve seen this so far. So I’m really encouraged.”

Last month, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao expounded the potential benefits states could realize from a federal multiyear highway measure. Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, Chao said: “State and local governments, you know, if they know they’re going to have this money for five years rather than six months, they can actually plan for the future. So a longer-term horizon is better.”

While congressional authorizers toiled on the next highway bill, President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced in May their negotiations on a $2 trillion infrastructure measure had collapsed.

Class 8 Orders Come in at 13,000 for June as Freight Movement Slows

www.ttnews.com, Jim Stinson, July 3, 2019, 2:00 pm

Class 8 Orders Come in at 13,000 for June as Freight Movement Slows

Class 8 truck orders declined from last June.Class 8 truck orders declined 69% in June compared to June 2018. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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North American Class 8 orders in June fell sharply from a year ago and primarily reflected replacement demand amid questions about the strength of the freight market, ACT Research reported.

June orders for North American Class 8 trucks were down 69% from June 2018, not a totally surprising plunge given the tough comparison to the sales environment created by the 2018 freight boom, one analyst said.

ACT Research’s preliminary numbers reported the industry booked 13,100 units in June, “gaining 20% from May’s three-year low.”

Kenny Vieth, ACT’s president and senior analyst, said slowing freight markets are the main culprit in slowing orders.

“Weak freight market and rate conditions across North America and a still-large Class 8 backlog continue to bedevil new Class 8 orders,” Vieth said in a July 2 news release.

FTR also reported June orders for North American Class 8 trucks came in at about 13,000 units, up 24% from May, but continuing to track well below 20,000 units. FTR, based in Bloomington, Ind., is a freight transportation forecasting company.

Including June activity, it was the weakest six-month start to a year since 2010, FTR officials reported. Most orders for 2019 delivery already have been placed, FTR noted.

“Fleets are moving around previously placed orders and adjusting delivery times according to business conditions, and smaller fleets and dealers are placing small fill-in orders, as production slots become available in the near term,” according to FTR’s preliminary June report. “Backlogs should fall under 200,000 units for the first time since May 2018. Class 8 orders for the past 12 months now total 331,000 units.”

Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles

Ake

Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles, said the industry barely missed a low point of 10,000 orders.

“The orders are truly a mixed bag,” Ake wrote. “One original equipment manufacturer reportedly started to take orders for 2020, but the other OEMs apparently did not. Without the 2020 orders, the total would have dipped below the 10,000-unit mark.”

ACT Research Vice President Steve Tam told Transport Topics on July 8, “It’s pretty clear the drivers behind [Class 8] demand are slowing, albeit from record highs.”

Tam said the latest numbers are more indicative of a “replacement demand,” one caused by the need to replace aging vehicles rather than the “hair on fire” demand he witnessed in late 2017 and well into 2018. That demand was driven by a booming freight market and contained a speculative aspect to it, Tam said. In other words, fleets wanted to make sure they had more than enough trucks to meet possible growing freight-movement orders.

Neil Frohnapple, an analyst with Buckingham Research Group of New York, wrote in a June 24 report, “Several dealers attributed the slowdown to economic uncertainty and deteriorating freight conditions. The vast majority of Freightliner dealers noted that new Class 8 truck net pricing is flat thus far in 2Q19 (vs. 1Q19) as OEMs are not pricing aggressively due a lack of available build slots for the remainder of 2019.”

Frohnapple noted 35% of his Freightliner dealer contacts reported that new Class 8 truck orders were tracking below dealers’ expectations in the second quarter of 2019, while 55% of dealers indicated that orders are currently in line with plans.

Tam said OEMs are more optimistic for the entirety of 2019, expecting 356,500 North American builds for the full year. ACT Research expects a smaller number — 341,700 orders for 2019. Tam said producers have built 151,829 Class 8 units through May 31.

As for cancellations, Tam said he doubts they will begin to pile up. If anything, the orders likely are made after much consideration.

“When you are down to this level, [orders] are very solid,” he said. “There’s no incentive to order a truck you don’t really need.”

Ake said the tariff battles between President Donald Trump and China, seen as easing since Trump’s recent trip to Asia, still hang over plans for OEMs.

“Most OEMs are reluctant to quote future trucks due to uncertainty over material costs,” Ake wrote in his release. “Until the tariff situation is resolved, it is risky to quote prices for 2020. Fleets are also reluctant to accept material surcharges with this much ambiguity present.”

Another problem that could affect truck orders is manufacturing, Ake wrote.

“The economy and freight are still growing, but the latest manufacturing data is not promising,” Ake said. “The consumer sector is sturdy, but freight growth is expected to moderate the rest of the year. As a result, Class 8 truck build rates should begin to decrease in the coming months.”

Regarding the medium-duty market, Vieth said the order trend “remains off the pace set in the first half of 2018 but continues to benefit from the underlying strength in the consumer economy.”

In June, Classes 5-7 net orders were 19,200 units, down 30% year-over-year and down 5.7% from May.

“While we have to go back 23 months to find a weaker medium-duty order month on an actual basis,” Vieth said, “we only have to go back three months when looking at seasonally adjusted data.”

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao Stresses Benefits of Long-Term Highway Bill

www.ttnews.com, Eugene Mulero, July 8th, 2019, 2:30 pm

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao Stresses Benefits of Long-Term Highway Bill

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says state and local governments could engage in long-term planning “if they know they’re going to have this money for five years rather than six months.” (US National Archives via YouTube)

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June ended with the country’s top transportation officer emphasizing that a multiyear highway policy directive from Washington is more beneficial to state agencies than a series of short-term extensions of federal guidelines.

Secretary Elaine Chao drilled down on this point, admittedly obvious to stakeholders, during an in-depth conversation with Hugo Gurdon, editor of The Washington Examiner, on June 26.

“The general pattern is in fact to just have extensions, not full reauthorization. But clearly, the certainty of having a longer time frame is very important to those who are involved in infrastructure,” said the secretary, sitting across from the journalist on stage at the Heritage Foundation. “State and local governments, you know, if they know they’re going to have this money for five years rather than six months, they can actually plan for the future. So a longer-term horizon is better.”

Eugene Mulero
Mulero

The conservative think tank is a few blocks from the Senate side of the Capitol, where the surface transportation panel on July 10 ideally will kick off the obvious task of determining a strategy for reauthorizing surface transportation policy. The current highway law expires in less than 15 months.

By now, a consensus has been established inside the Beltway that advancing comprehensive infrastructure policy is unlikely this year. Separate press conferences in May from President Donald Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing their failed negotiations on a $2 trillion infrastructure measure cemented the notion that top-level infrastructure talks had collapsed.

Since then, Trump has focused on immigration policy. Pelosi has pressed forward with investigations into Trump’s political and business worlds. The Republican leadership in the Senate has not proposed an infrastructure measure during Trump’s tenure.

Reacting to Gurdon’s suggestion that comprehensive infrastructure policy would not advance in the foreseeable future, Chao exclaimed, “I haven’t given up hope yet.”

She added, “The president is optimistic, and the White House, they’re talking to Congress about this.”

Coalition Pushes for Federal Excise Tax Repeal on New Trucks

www.ttnews.com, Eugene Mulero, June 25, 2019, 11:45 a.m.

Coalition Pushes for Federal Excise Tax Repeal on New Trucks

WWI-era and modern trucks in WashingtonThe coalition brought a World War I-era truck and a modern truck to Capitol Hill to illustrate the differences. (Modernize the Truck Fleet coalition via YouTube)

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A group of stakeholders is pushing for the congressional repeal of the federal excise tax on the sale of heavy-duty trucks and trailers.

At a forum June 19, the Modernize the Truck Fleet coalition urged federal lawmakers to pass the Modern, Clean, and Safe Trucks Act of 2019.

The legislation, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in April, would repeal the 12% federal excise tax on certain heavy-duty trucks, tractors and trailers. Senate companion legislation was recently introduced.

Jodie Teuton

Teuton

“The [federal excise tax] was first enacted to help pay for World War I,” said Jodie Teuton, chairwoman of the American Truck Dealers, a coalition member. She is vice president of Kenworth of Louisiana. “This tax may have made sense in 1917, but today the FET delays heavy-duty truck fleet turnover by adding more than $20,000 to the average price of a new truck.”

“With an infrastructure bill as likely to pass as any piece of legislation this Congress, this is the time to put all of our combined energy into finding a way to replace the onerous FET,” added Jake Jacoby, president and CEO of Truck Renting and Leasing Association. “We are excited to be a part of such a collaborative effort working with truck companies, manufacturers, dealers and end users who all want to put the cleanest, most technologically advanced trucks onto our highways immediately.”

The coalition also includes NTEA — The Association for the Work Truck Industry, the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, the National Trailer Dealers Association and National Tank Truck Carriers Association. American Truck Dealers is a division of the National Automobile Dealers Association.

On average, the excise tax at the federal level has the potential to add $12,000 to $22,000 to the sale of a new truck, the bill’s sponsors have emphasized.

Heavy-duty trucks on the roadways are about a decade old. Also, most new trucks have multiple advanced safety features, and new technologies have helped to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions, sponsors explained.

“The FET made sense when it was implemented 100 years ago, but just like trucks that were designed in 1917, it’s no longer the best option in the modern world. Today, it’s a cost-prohibitive barrier for small businesses looking to upgrade their outdated trucks to safer, cleaner, more modern vehicles. The average age of most heavy-duty trucks on the road today is nearly 10 years old – that means a decade worth of technological advancements is effectively being sidelined,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), who introduced the bill with Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) in April. He sits on the influential committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“The (FET) is an outdated burden to small businesses looking to invest in our transportation industry. Repealing this tax would encourage new, and cleaner fuel-efficient vehicles on our roads,” added Peterson, chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

“While we need to find ways to fully fund the Highway Trust Fund and invest in our outdated infrastructure, we need to do so in a way that is not counterproductive. The FET makes it harder to invest in safer and cleaner fleets and does not represent the usage these vehicles are putting on our roads. This language should help drive the discussion toward addressing our transportation infrastructure needs and not singling out certain users for paying for it,” Peterson added.

The House bill was referred to the tax-writing Ways and Means panel. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, introduced the companion legislation June 14, which was referred to the tax-writing Finance Committee.