By: Ed Hamberger, AAR CEO
The Wall Street Journal editorial board recently endorsed the widespread deployment of twin 33-foot double-trailers nationally — an increase of 17 feet compared to today’s standard, single-trailer trucks — arguing that such a change in policy would be a “free ride” to improve lagging public infrastructure.
The only free ride relevant for this discussion, however, is that which large trucks already enjoy on public highways that received a “D” grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Big trucks, which undoubtedly play an invaluable role to U.S. commerce and are a major rail industry customer, do not pay for the costs associated with their infrastructure use. Per the U.S. DOT, trucks conforming to current federal limits cover just 80 percent of the damage they cause to our highways, which forces taxpayers to pick up the rest of the tab. Since 2008, the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) has required $143 billion in general funds, meaning you, your neighbors, and local businesses are all further subsidizing the roads trucks use.
Why would Congress willingly exacerbate this? It certainly would not be fiscally responsible, a key belief of the Journal’s esteemed opinion leaders.
Absent structural changes that return the Trust Fund to a user-pay system — meaning those who use infrastructure pay for that use — taxpayer subsidization will only continue.
While the editorial drags private freight railroads into the discussion, Class I carriers willingly pay for their infrastructure — spending $26 billion annually in recent years. But we believe that any discussion on increasing truck sizes — which history shows leads to more trucks — is absurd until policymakers end the corporate welfare extended to trucks.
Absent rectifying this fundamental issue, campaigns to boost truck sizes should be emphatically rejected.