Your newspaper recently criticized a bill to raise state fuel taxes, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Harper. Odd as it may seem, our industry must disagree. The state of our highways is rapidly disintegrating. Mountain View Corridor must be funded, without tolls, and we face other critical needs in Utah County and elsewhere. While I can think of no other single industry that would pay more in fuel tax, we believe it is past time to act.
Within the next 20 years, the number of trucks on the highways will double. Trucks are often overlooked in discussing future highway needs; often we feel like an afterthought. Between 70 percent and 80 percent of processed and manufactured goods are transported by truck. Diversion to rail and other modes is not an option; they are at or near capacity. With increasing highway congestion, truck production drops resulting in higher freight rates to shippers and increasing prices to consumers. Congestion contributes to more accidents and to the release of more harmful emissions into the environment.
On Jan. 15, the National Surface Transportation Revenue and Policy Study Commission recommended the "gas tax" continue to be the primary source of future highway funding.
If we fail to act now on our critical highway needs, we will only have to pay more in the coming decades. Mountain View Corridor must be built, and built as a freeway not a toll road. If it is a nontoll highway, everyone in the state will benefit. Commuters on I-15 will get relief from chokepoints and increasing numbers of commercial trucks. Our economy will benefit from the capacity to move freight and people more smoothly and rapidly. Utah County is in dire need of I-15 widening and improvement to meet current and future demand.
Your editorial also mentioned polling in which 70 percent of Utahns opposed raising the fuel tax. Obviously, no one wants higher taxes. However, we believe that if given the choice of more hours lost in commuting, bottlenecks, higher accident rates, productivity losses that cost jobs and investment, or a reasonable increase in the fuel tax, Utah voters can be persuaded. In fact, we have gathered in a coalition with several cities and chambers of commerce and funded some polling of our own. We asked the question, "If you could be sure that the funds generated would go toward the construction of new freeways and improving traffic flow on key roads and intersections, would you favor or oppose a 5-cent per gallon fuel tax increase?" In response, 52 percent still opposed, but 44 percent were in favor. We believe that means the public is open on this issue if we can trust that the money will be used properly.
Perhaps an even better question would be "Would you prefer paying for new highways through an increased gas tax or through tolls on major routes?" With the cost of projects continuing to increase and demands on budget surpluses also increasing, funding must come from either higher gas taxes or tolls. I believe people would prefer the former.
Texas has of late become the "Capital of Toll Roads." A new political party has even formed to oppose them, and the Texas Legislature has imposed a two-year moratorium on new toll projects. Yet, at the same time, Gov. Rick Perry's own Business Council performed an in-depth study that concluded that an 8-cent per gallon fuel tax increase and then indexing the tax to the Highway Cost Index would meet the state's $66 billion in unmet, critical highway needs without further tolling. Let's not make the same mistakes other states are making.Speaking on behalf of our 88-year-old Utah-based company and our association, we remain vitally committed to doing what is necessary to assure the continued, efficient flow of the nation's goods. We strongly support the sacrifices we will all need to make to fund our highway needs and ask for immediate action. The Legislature has done much the past few years to fund roads with "one-time" money, but we must have ongoing funding. There is no perfect solution, but Rep. Harper ought not be criticized for making a courageous attempt in a political year. We call on House and Senate leadership to support such efforts, and ask that the Deseret Morning News not be so quick to condemn those who attempt to provide leadership on this difficult issue.
Daniel E. England is chairman of C.R. England Trucking and past president of the Utah Trucking Association.