Highway users form coalition to oppose privatization of toll roads

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The American Trucking Associations — in conjunction with the American Automobile Association, the American Highway Users Alliance, the National Association of Truck Stop Operators, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association — announced today, Feb. 9, the formation of a coalition of highway user groups to combat the growing trend toward the privatization or leasing of existing toll facilities to private investors.

Known as “Americans for a Strong National Highway Network,” the coalition is designed to advance the rights of American motorists to travel on safe, reliable public roads; maintain a robust national highway network for the efficient transport of goods and the military; and to hold government accountable for ensuring financing is transparent, motivated by public good and dedicated to transportation purposes.

The announcement was made at a press conference held at the National Press Club.

“The sale or lease of existing toll facilities generates revenue at great expense to taxpayers and the trucking industry and carries potential negative impacts on highway safety, security and the motoring public,” says Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer. “We must consider the long-term impact privatization will have on our nation’s transportation system and explore all available financing options to ensure that the government is motivated by public good and transportation purposes.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, stated: “For the Bush Administration, the rush to promote public-private partnerships is based in ideology, not a critical evaluation of how public-private partnerships might help meet the goal of an improved, integrated national transportation system and further the public interest.”

ATA strongly opposes the lease or sale of existing toll roads, bridges or tunnels to private parties and has called upon the government to abandon these financing techniques. The trucking industry supports the objective of a toll-free national highway system where funds to finance highway improvements primarily come from highway user fees, such as the fuel tax.

OOIDA shares ATA’s concerns. “Having these prominent organizations joining the charge against selling off our nation’s highways is an indication of just how opposed the public is to these deals,” says Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA. “These groups are willing to fight to save the highways that were bought, and continued to be paid for, by the public.”

In response to the recent trend of states seeking to privatize public infrastructure and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s promotion of privatization, Spencer stated, “We recognize elected officials are confronted with difficult funding decisions, but these deals are akin to a pawn-shop mentality of hocking your assets for cash now, but paying much more down the road. Rest assured the companies lining up to buy our roads aren’t doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They see long-term cash flows and guaranteed, healthy profits at the public’s expense.”

In reference to proponents’ contention that privatization will help to alleviate traffic congestion, Spencer said, “The companies investing in our roads want to ‘induce’ congestion on the roads they profit from, not reduce it. Their profits are derived from high traffic volumes and high tolls. Remember, they are accountable to their shareholders, not to the public.”

To back up its opposition with relevant data, OOIDA commissioned a post-election survey of Indiana voters by the polling company inc./WomanTrend after the November 2006 elections. More than 900 voters were asked about privatization of the Indiana Toll Road. Opposition has been shown to be clear and decisive among voters statewide and also in the northern counties hosting the toll road. A majority (52 percent) of actual voters voiced displeasure with the long-term lease, with a plurality (35 percent) saying they “strongly” oppose it. The decline in support for the governor apparently is tied closely to the long-term lease of the toll road, Spencer says.

“The media did a good job of talking about the issue in Indiana,” Spencer says. “Unfortunately for voters, the governor was aware and did a better job of rushing the sale through the Legislature, without the consent of the voters. Voters never truly had a say in the process, so come 2008 we’ll see what the voters have to say.”

In 2006, OOIDA was a vocal opponent to Daniels’ 75-year lease of the toll road to an Australian-Spanish consortium. Recently, OOIDA has mounted opposition to Pennsylvania and New Jersey Governors Ed Rendell and John Corzine, who have explored selling their states’ infrastructure, including the historic Pennsylvania Turnpike.

“After America’s motoring public paid federal and state taxes to build these roads, they are being sold to private investors to levy another form of tax increase on the American people,” says Spencer. “PPPs should mean, ‘Private companies Playing the Public.’ “