Be Careful What You Wish For
November 29, 1999
Truckers love to complain about the condition of some of the nation's highways, a fact capitalized on by one industry magazine with its annual "Worst Roads" trucker poll. But two states blame trucks for the problem -- and say truckers should be prepared to ante up to fix it.
The annual survey got Louisiana thinking about increasing truck registration fees, while Arkansas officials say tractor-trailers make up more than half the traffic on the poorly ranked sections of highway -- and that a recently enacted diesel tax hike will help solve the problem.
The survey of 1,115 truckers ranked Louisiana's I-10 the second worst in the nation, while I-30 and I-40 in Arkansas was number one. Arkansas was also rated worst overall, with Louisiana again in second place. (Illinois, Pennsylvania, California and Michigan were also singled out for their bad roads.)
Louisiana state highway chief Kam Movassaghi admitted I-10 is in bad condition, and he plans to recommend that truck registration fees be at least doubled to pay for road maintenance.
With increased truck traffic due to the North American Free Trade Agreement, Movassaghi said, the state is now experiencing some of the heaviest truck traffic in the country - and it's increasing. He said one 80,000-pound rig causes the same wear as 9,600 autos.
The state charges one of the lower fees in the nation, $514 per five-axle truck, Movassaghi said at a news conference. Combined with the state's average fuel tax, and Louisiana is ranked 44th in what it charges the trucking industry, he said. "I think the fee should be around the nation's average," between $1,000 and $1,500. Arkansas' truck registration fee is more than $1,300 per truck. The lowest registration fee is $143 in Idaho; the highest is in Arizona, at $4,000.
In Arkansas, officials noted that the survey comes at a time when the state is embarking on a $575 million bond program to repair the worst 372 miles of its 589-mile Interstate system - a bond issue that will be partially repaid with a 4-cent higher diesel tax.
However, Arkansas state highway officials say trucks are the reason the state's roads are so bad. "We have here in Arkansas just a river of trucks flowing down Interstate 30 and Interstate 40," said Dan Flowers, director of the state Highway and Transportation Department. On some sections of interstate, trucks make up nearly 60% of traffic.
"They were probably right" that Arkansas roads are the worst, said Highway Commission Chairman Herby Branscum Jr. But he added: "One of their complaints was that there were too many construction zones. How can you satisfy these folks?"