You'll never see the headline, but the collision is real enough.
Last week, the New Jersey Turnpike announced toll hikes in two 13% increments, the first in the spring or summer of this year, the second on January 1, 2003. For trucks equipped with E-ZPass automated toll transponders, the increases will be 8% and 8%.
Of course, New Jersey bans big interstate trucks from all state roads not part of the National Highway Network. That eliminates virtually all north-south roadways except the Turnpike, thus guaranteeing the newly increased truck toll revenues. It may not have been the state's primary motivation, but you won't find state government complaining.
Also last week, Sam Cunninghame, President of the New Jersey Motor Truck Assn., told TruckingInfo.com he has requested a meeting with the state's transportation commissioner to ask two things: (1) that U.S. Route 1, U.S. Route 130 and N.J. 17, all traditional truck routes, be added to New Jersey's National Highway Network and (2) that Turnpike tolls count as state fuel tax.
Transportation Commissioner James Weinstein has not responded to Cunninghame's request and it doesn't look good. During the public comment period on the state's truck ban, Cunninghame made similar proposals, which NJDOT turned down cold.
All this raises an interesting technology policy question: If individual states can bar interstate trucks from state roads -- even traditional truck routes as New Jersey has -- why should carriers invest in evolving technology to monitor and avoid traffic jams? What good is an electronic advisory of trouble ahead when there is no legal alternate route?
The question should concern policy planners such as the Intelligent Transportation Society of America and the U.S. Department of Transportation. DOT underwrites many ITSA initiatives, including projects to provide real-time traffic information so drivers can chose alternate routes.
Of course, it was Transportation Rodney Slater who last year gave New Jersey the nod, all but approving the state's truck ban and subverting any practical possibility of alternate routes for big trucks.
Maybe Mr. Slater should rethink this one.