Indiana toll hike may hamper Ohio’s rollbackWritten by Scott McKimmy | | email@example.com
Commuters driving along east-west highways such as U.S. 20, U.S. 24 and state Route 2 may have noticed a little more bumper room during the past year.
Twelve months into an 18-month trial toll rollback to attract commercial vehicles to the Ohio Turnpike, the Ohio Department of Transportation reported a ”pretty steady rise” in truck traffic on the toll road, according to Joe Rutherford, spokesman for ODOT District 2. He said the Northern Ohio Freight Strategy has drawn trucks away from parallel routes not designed for the weight and congestion of tractor-trailer use.
All routes experienced a reduction in the volume of truck traffic. On Route 2, ODOT measured 60.4 percent less traffic on a stretch near Port Clinton and 43.4 percent in eastern Lucas County. On U.S. 20 in parts of Williams County, traffic decreased by 28.6 percent, while falling 22.6 percent on a section in Fulton County. Route 6 had declines ranging from 18.3 to 38.3 percent.
That success may be short-lived.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has been working with the Indiana Department of Transportation on a plan to raise tolls in the Hoosier state in the spring of 2006, according to an IDOT spokesman. Just as Ohio’s trial period ends, Indiana intends to solve its road-funding problem by increasing rates nearly as much as the Buckeye state’s rollback. The proposed hike, in some cases, will more than double the cost for truckers, depending on the number of axles and the distance traveled.
As a result, a segment of trucking companies throughout northern Indiana with routes to eastbound destinations have expressed their intent to avoid toll roads as much as possible in both states. The policy shift could hamper Ohio’s efforts to keep big rigs on the turnpike.
Ken Blazer, general manager of Kingman Dedicated Services in Elkhart, Ind., said 30 to 35 of his company’s trucks make hauls across the Ohio Turnpike. After hearing about the toll decrease, Kingman has been ”picking up the tab,” allowing drivers to run I-80/90 on every eastbound trip. Previously, drivers paid their own tolls if they chose the turnpike over alternate routes.
”Indiana’s looking at a 113-percent increase here. If they do that, we’ll probably be backing off on the Ohio Turnpike because we will not be getting on here [in Indiana],” Blazer said.
”It would be in the best interest of Ohio to get a hold of Indiana and convince them not to do so. They need to work together.”
Blazer acknowledged the benefits for trucking firms in terms of fuel costs, vehicle wear and tear and timely delivery by routing along toll roads. He could not determine an improvement in safety because the company policy has been in effect for only three months, but he said driver fatigue has become less likely.
”It makes it easier for the driver to get his 11-hour break in and still achieve his miles for the week,” Blazer said.
”I’m sure it’s saving fuel also because you’re running at a steady speed of 60 to 65 miles an hour compared to stop and go on two-lane roads.”
Matt Metzger, vice president of Metzger Trucking in Silver Lake, Ind., echoed Blazer’s sentiments. His company’s location in north central Indiana facilitates travel along the turnpikes for eastbound and westbound routes. Nevertheless, Metzger emphasized his reluctance to authorize any driver to take a toll road, but said it does occur periodically.
”We encourage our gentlemen to stay off the toll road if possible because it costs quite a bit more, and there are alternate routes,” Metzger said. ”It’ll lower the amount [of toll-road] use in Ohio.”
Indiana officials remain optimistic about generating more revenues from tolls and anticipate only a slight drop in turnpike truck traffic, according to Gary Abell, IDOT director of communications. He said a 20-year absence of toll hikes and a break-even return on revenues compelled officials to consider the proposal.
”There will be a few trucks that obviously will try to divert, but if history is any guide, that percentage will be fairly small,” Abell said, ”probably less than 10 percent of truck traffic.”
Because the Indiana Turnpike receives no funding from gas taxes — an arrangement Abell called an ”aberration” — IDOT must rely solely on tolls to support maintenance and repair projects. He cited a comparison of Indiana tolls to those in Ohio and Illinois, taking into account a current restructuring of commercial classifications. Indiana bases tolls on the number of axles, while Ohio determines tolls based on weight.
The proposed increase will establish a per-mile rate of 19.6 cents for a five-axle truck, the typical commercial class for most rigs in Indiana. A truck in a comparable class in Ohio now pays 12.8 cents per mile, but paid 19.8 cents per mile before the reduction. Illinois charges 31.2 cents per mile.