Senators OK toll limit, but not surcharge

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The highway bill passed by the U.S. Senate last week includes a limit on tolls on interstate highways, but no mandatory fuel surcharge.

The U.S. House version passed in March includes the surcharge but no toll limits. These and many other differences in the bills remain to be worked out in conference between the House and Senate.

Leaders in both houses said they hoped to send a compromise version to the Oval Office before the current highway bill expires May 31.

“We look forward to swift action by the House-Senate conference so that these important issues can be presented to President Bush,” said Bill Graves, American Trucking Associations president and CEO.

The Senate passed the $295 billion bill by a vote of 89-11 on May 17 despite President Bush’s threat to veto any highway funding beyond the $284 billion approved by the House.

The amendment that would prevent tolls on existing interstate highway lanes passed the Senate by a voice vote May 10. It was sponsored by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, and Bill Nelson, D-Neb., and was popular among constituents who let their wishes be known through thousands of letters and phone calls.

A federally mandated fuel surcharge is supported by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Truckload Carriers Association, but opposed by the American Trucking Associations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It also is opposed by the Bush administration; the head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration testified against it in April.

The House bill would require any carrier, broker or freight forwarder using fuel that it didn’t pay for – when an owner-operator provides the actual transportation, for example – to pass along a surcharge to the person responsible for paying for the fuel.

The surcharge would apply during any period in which the current diesel price surpasses a benchmark price by 5 cents per gallon. It would expire once the current diesel fuel price equals or is less than the benchmark price. The House set the initial benchmark price at $1.10, with a provision to adjust it annually.