Photo: U.S. Department of Transportation

Photo: U.S. Department of Transportation

UPDATED A draft of the Trump Administration’s long-promised infrastructure plan, obtained and published on Jan. 22, is arguably most compelling for what it leaves out: Any talk of boosting federal fuel taxes., which broke the story, reported this to be White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters’ comment on the draft: “We are not going to comment on the contents of a leaked document but look forward to presenting our plan in the near future.” 

Despite sustained lobbying by the influential American Trucking Associations (last year ATA even got face time with President Trump) as well as by the powerhouse United States Chamber of Commerce to substantially raise the gas tax (and index it for inflation going forward)-- not to mention the White House previously indicating such a hike was on the table-- the document makes no mention of that tax.

The undated six-page document, titled “Funding Principles” for an “Infrastructure Incentives Initiative,” also does not give an actual dollar figure for the plan aimed at improving the nation’s transportation, broadband, water, and power infrastructure.

In general terms, per, the draft calls for spending to be broken down thusly: “Infrastructure incentives initiative” (50%); “transformative projects” (10%); rural infrastructure (25%); federal credit programs (7%), and federal capital financing fund (5%).

Two specific points made about transportation funding in the document are not going over well with some highway stakeholder groups:

  • That states be allowed “flexibility to toll on interstates and reinvest toll revenues in infrastructure” and to “reconcile the grandfathered restrictions on use of highway toll revenues with current law.”
  • That states should be provided the “flexibility to commercialize interstate rest areas.”

“The leaked Trump infrastructure plan is a complete reversal of President Trump’s commitment to putting America First,” said Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates spokesperson Stephanie Kane in a statement. “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. President Trump is choosing Wall Street over Main Street. It would take money from hardworking Americans and give huge profits to toll road investors – many of which are foreign companies.

Kane said that allowing tolling and reconciling the grandfathered restrictions “translates to a complete reversal of the current federal ban on tolling existing interstates. Tolls are simply a new tax. They are wildly inefficient, sacrificing money that could go toward construction instead going to corporate profits and administrative costs. In addition to the diversion onto secondary roads which causes congestion and public safety issues, tolls will do unimaginable harm to businesses, as shipping and manufacturing prices skyrocket to account for these new costs.”

She added that the draft plan could result in “a patchwork of tolls that span coast to coast… There is a real opportunity for a long-term solution to our transportation infrastructure needs, but it shouldn’t include tolling our interstates.”

According to American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear, the leading truck lobby is also concerned about the talk of tolls. “As we’ve said before, we have serious concerns about the unintended consequences of tolls, including their inefficiency, disruption to traffic flows, diversion to secondary roads and negative impact on local economies, to name a few,” he said in a statement to HDT. 

Noting that ATA “commends President Trump for addressing our nation’s infrastructure crisis and making it a top priority of his presidency,” Spear stated that “This challenge requires a sustainable, long-term funding solution, which is why American Trucking Associations is proposing the Build America Fund. This plan would generate $340 billion in revenue over the next decade to invest in our deteriorating roads and bridges.

“We look forward to working with the Congress and the Administration on a legislative package that can deliver the solution our country needs and deserves,” he added.

Lisa Mullings, president and CEO of NATSO, which represents truck stop operators, said that the lobby isextremely disappointed at the prospect that the [Trump] Administration might renew its call for liberalizing tolling policy and commercializing rest areas.”

Mullings said “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. We urge the Administration to refrain from widespread tolling of America’s infrastructure and the commercialization of interstate rest areas.

“It has been nearly a quarter of a century since we increased the federal investment in our nation’s infrastructure, even though all experts agree that this type of government spending saves lives, saves dollars and boosts our nation's productivity,” she continued. “As America’s aging roads and bridges continue to feel the strain, it is time for our leaders in Washington, D.C., to do the right thing by raising the nation’s motor fuels taxes.”

Mullings added that NATSO wants “sustainable solutions to funding infrastructure that don’t harm American businesses and highway users” and looks forward to working with the Administration “to find the best path forward.”

Updated with comments from ATA on 01/23/2018 at 12:10 pm EST.

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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