In 2012, the Michigan Department of Transportation issued 6,992 special permits — an average of 19 each day — for trucks weighing more than 164,000 pounds, a Free Press investigation found. Some 2,820 of those permits were for trucks weighing 200,000 pounds or more.Why $50? Nice round number.
[U]nlike states such as Ohio, Michigan officials say they have never studied just how much road damage these heavy trucks cause each year. So potentially damaging are these super loads that state officials must sometimes physically inspect parts of the route before approving the permits.And pro-business, pro-privatization, Tea Party favorite governor Rick Snyder isn't applying the benefit principle consistently.
Yet the permit fee — $50 — doesn’t come close to covering the costs of those inspections, let alone the road damage. And it is much less than what neighboring states Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio charge.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has been citing a “user pay” philosophy when touting his plan to hike fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees to raise about $1.2 billion more a year to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges, which often are rated subpar compared to the rest of the nation. A TRIP/USA Today analysis of 2012 Federal Highway Administration data, released last week, found that only 34% of Michigan roads were in good condition, below the national average of 38%.Nearby states base their fees on weight, although in no case does the fee reflect the incremental cost.
But Snyder hasn’t talked about hiking fees for special permits for overweight trucks, which haven’t gone up in 16 years.
In 2009, Ohio conservatively estimated that overweight trucks with special permits do $144 million in annual damage to that state’s roads and bridges. Only about half of that cost is covered by various state and federal taxes and fees truckers pay — not counting fees for overweight permits — the report said.Fortunately, universities have economics departments.
“Increasing a single axle load by 20% ... doubles the damage,” the Ohio Department of Transportation report said. “This example illustrates the dramatic impact overweight permitted loads have on pavements.”
Michigan officials say they have not studied the damage, or costs resulting from the overweight permits they issue.
“It makes sense to say that when you run heavier loads down the highway, that puts more stress down on the road,” said Matthew DeLong, administrator of MDOT’s development services division. However, “I can’t quantify it for you.”
The $20.9 million Ohio raised from overweight permits in 2012 doesn’t come close to covering the estimated damage to that state’s roads. But it’s well ahead of the $2.7 million Michigan raised. Ohio’s permits on average cost twice as much as Michigan’s, and Ohio charges many times what Michigan does for its heaviest loads.
Kenneth Boyer, an economics professor at Michigan State University who specializes in transportation funding, said it’s important to not only quantify, but to recover from the trucking industry and their customers the damage caused by overweight trucks with special permits.Let alone making the workers' commutes slower, or more dangerous. The article introduces other engineering and business considerations, and it will reward careful study. The Detroit Free Press editorial board gets the idea.
Certain government subsidies to the industry can be justified, but “it’s not at all clear why you want to subsidize manufacturing through accelerating the depreciation of the capital investment in the roadways,” Boyer said.
Meanwhile, the roads keep crumbling, and residents pay more in car repairs and accidents than they ever would in higher registration fees.Repeat with me: "Fine, let's make sure the heavier trucks bear the full cost of the road-strengthening programs, as well as the increased congestion costs those elephants will impose on everyone behind them. We don't want to become China, with days-long traffic jams."
It’s past time for Lansing to get more serious about enhanced funding, and better roads. If trucks are an entree to a wider discussion, all the better for everyone in the state.