National associations representing off-highway travel plazas and barge lines sharply criticized President Trump's infrastructure plan and budget proposals, warning that if implemented they would end up damaging more U.S. roads and undercutting the nation's trade competitiveness.
The truck stop group NATSO said it "will actively oppose key aspects of the Trump administration's new infrastructure proposal" – targeting its provisions to increase tolling of interstate highways and to commercialize interstate rest areas.
NATSO said more tolling of interstates would divert traffic to secondary roads, which would suffer more structural damage and higher accident rates.
In addition, "interstate tolls cost the government significantly more to administer and enforce than the existing motor fuels tax," said NATSO President Lisa Mullings. "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?"
Mullings also said commercializing on-highway rest areas "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."
And because the on-highway services would hurt the business of off-highway travel plazas, NATSO said those off-highway businesses would not be able to continue supporting large amounts of truck parking spaces, or generate as much local and state tax revenue.
On the inland river system, Trump proposals to levy large new fees on barge lines and reduce the harbor maintenance tax that pays for port-area dredging would raise the costs of moving freight on the waterways, passing those costs along to consumers, and push more loads onto highways, said Mike Toohey, CEO of the Waterways Council that represents barge lines and their bulk cargo shippers.
Toohey said the barge industry was encouraged last June when Trump promised new efforts to improve locks and dams as he spoke from the banks of the Ohio River with coal-hauling barges in the background.
But under the administration's infrastructure proposal, Toohey said in a Marine Log story, "Carriers, and therefore shippers like American family farmers, energy/petroleum and coal producers, cement and construction material companies, and many others who rely on the cost-competitive waterways to ship their products around the U.S. and the world, would be saddled with massive increases that will deter freight from the waterways and cause a modal transportation shift. This would negatively affect our agriculture trade balance, increase traffic congestion on our highways and railways, and impact our environment."
Toohey also noted that the president's budget would cut by more than 22 percent the Army Corps of Engineers' Civil Works funding that includes navigation projects.
"This dour FY2019 budget represents a clear disconnect from the encouraging rhetoric made by President Trump about the inland waterways in the State of Union address and at his historic visit to the Ohio River in June 2017," he said. "If accepted, this budget, like the infrastructure proposal issued earlier today, hamstrings America's ability to compete in the world.
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