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October 29, 2007 7:50 AM, EDT

Kuntz Increases Drumbeat for More Road Funding

By Jonathan S. Reiskin, Associate News Editor
This story appears in the Oct. 29 print edition of Transport Topics.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Four months into his term as chairman of American Trucking Associations, Ray Kuntz said the nation’s inadequate highway infrastructure is worse than he had thought and that long-term highway leases to private companies are not a solution.
He also stated that ATA must lead on controlling greenhouse gas emissions.
Kuntz talked to Transport Topics Oct. 21 at the start of the association’s annual Management Conference & Exhibition here, after spending much of the summer traveling to state trucking association meetings and even Brazil to learn more about the industry.
“There’s an $18 billion shortfall in Massachusetts for highways, and in Colorado, it’s a $20 billion shortfall. I don’t know the precise validity of those figures, but I don’t get to any state without hearing about this problem,” he said.
“If what the states are saying is true, then the problem is much larger than I had thought. The governors all seem to have task forces on this problem,” said Kuntz, chief executive officer of Watkins and Shepard Trucking in Helena, Mont. Kuntz succeeded Patrick Quinn as ATA chairman in June (6-18, p. 1).
For more than two years, ATA leaders have spoken of the importance of influencing the next multiyear federal highway plan, scheduled to take effect in the fall of 2009. Freight transportation infrastructure, mainly highways, has to keep pace with strongly rising freight volumes, ATA chairmen and President Bill Graves have said.
Kuntz said the Aug. 1 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis has acted “like a lantern on the problem” but with inconclusive results. Kuntz said he worries bridges might draw too much funding from other needed projects or that governments might just give up and close certain bridges to truck traffic, thereby forcing fleets to drive extra miles.
Scheduled to serve as chairman into October 2008, Kuntz said ATA has two preferences for dealing with the need for more infrastructure: supporting a fuel tax increase, where all new funds raised are dedicated to highway expansion and improvement; and opposing the privatization of roads.
Citing a study by the American Transportation Research Institute, Kuntz said every one-cent increase in the federal tax on diesel fuel and gasoline generates at least $1.75 billion a year in tax revenue.
He did not specify how big the tax increase should be but said, “I want every single penny of it to go to fixing this [congestion] problem.” While Kuntz said trucking has lobbied against such tax increases in the past, it is now time to change because carrier fleets are mired in traffic, and the only other alternative appears to be privatization, which ATA opposes strongly.
“I traveled to Brazil with other ATA leaders and staff and learned that privatization is scarier than I’d thought. The roads there are so expensive to use that trucks end up on secondary routes that are not designed for high volumes, and that causes an increase in accidents, including fatalities,” he said.
Dave Osiecki, ATA’s vice president for safety, security and operations accompanied Kuntz to Brazil. Osiecki said tolled roads in the United States usually cost a truck between 20 cents and 40 cents per mile to use, but in Brazil, the figure was at least twice the average U.S. level.
Kuntz also said the issue of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions has gained traction rapidly within ATA.
A year ago, at a retreat of the federation’s top leadership, “this was not even an item on ATA’s five-year agenda,” he said. “But by February, we appointed our sustainability task force, which was asked to put together a report.”
Tommy Hodges, chairman of Titan Transfer, Shelbyville, Tenn., and ATA’s newly installed second vice chairman, chaired the task force. Its report lists the association’s preference on how reduce the output of carbon.
Kuntz said ATA will oppose both a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system for emissions — the former because trucking already pays a lot in taxes, including fuel taxes, and the latter because it would be ferociously complicated.
He said cap-and-trade would be more applicable for “nonmobile” sources of emissions, a point seconded by Volvo engineer Skip Yeakel, who said at a panel session during the conference that, although trucks must burn some sort of diesel, there are choices for large buildings and factories.
However, Kuntz said the trade group is willing to support a nationwide speed limit of 65 miles per hour for trucks and cars and to continue calling for governing truck engines at 68 mph. This speed limit is desirable for both environmental and safety reasons, he said.
Kuntz also encouraged the use of anti-idling technologies, such as auxiliary power units, but said purchasers of environmentally friendly trucking equipment should be eligible for tax incentives.
“Our recommendations are based on proactive proposals to actually reduce the level of carbon. We want ideas that will actually accomplish something,” he said.