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Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

The last two weeks on the Sunday Train, I've been writing about the Steel Interstate. Steel Interstates & An America That Can Do Big Things (3 June) revisited the basic concept, and Putting Steel into the Amtrak Long Distance Backbone primarily discussed the first third of the Congressionally mandated reports on improving Amtrak's long distance rail network, but also discussed a bit about the role of long distance trains in the context of the Steel Interstate proposal.

This week, the attention shifts from the Steel Interstate infrastructure to the substantial benefit to our existing legacy Asphalt Interstates if the United States elects to retain a viable national economy by implementing some form of Steel Interstate electric rapid freight rail system for long-haul freight.

Along the way, I spend a bit of time talking about misconceptions about the cost of our legacy system. Myth and misconception that are sufficiently widely help may be sufficient platform for gathering majority support for a system ... but its not a sufficient platform for putting together a sustainable system, in either physical, ecological, economic, or financial senses of "sustainable".

What The Big Highway Lie Is Not, Part I

There are some people who labor under the misconception that gas taxes fund highway maintenance cost.

The notion is quite absurd on the face of it. The share of the federal highway fund that goes to roadworks is greater than the share of driving that takes place on funded highways, so obviously driving on unfunded streets ... mostly urban and inner-suburban city streets ... yields gas taxes that cross-subsidize driving on funded highways.

For example, here is the 2008 FHA Highway Statistics on highway revenues as a percentage of total disbursements:

  • 46.61% Motor Fuel and Vehicle Taxes
  • 5.11% Tolls
  • 4.57% Property Taxes and Assessments
  • 22.19% General Fund Appropriations
  • 9.60%  Investment Income and other Receipts
  • 10.95% Bond Issue Proceeds

Of course, the gas tax and vehicle tax revenues are collected for all road uses, and only directed to qualifying highways. While qualification of urban streets for state gas tax funding varies by state, urban streets that do not qualify for national or state highway designation are excluded from federal highway gas taxes.

Of course, over half a century of subsidy has channeled traffic onto these federally funded highways (that is, Interstate, National, State, County and Township highways), but still, according to the introduction to the 2011 CBO report on alternative approaches to highway funding:

About 25 percent of the nation's highways, which carry about 85 percent of all road traffic, are paid for in part by the federal government.
... so the direct gas tax and vehicle tax proceeds from driving on federally funded highways is at most 85% of 46.61%, or about 40%.

And, of course, this is also a substantial overstatement, since that is about 15% from Federal gas taxes and about 25% from state gas taxes. And in most states, gasoline is exempt from state and local sales taxes, so that only a portion of state gas taxes are an actual additional user fee, with much of the state gas tax simply being a diversion from the general fund. It would be as if alcohol sales in a state charged a "drinks tax" which went into providing infrastructure in support of drinking parties ~ and were exempted from state sales tax.

I don't have any recent figures on how much of total state gas tax revenues is an increment over what would be the sales tax proceeds on sales tax exempt gasoline sales, and how much is a diversion, but if the additional user tax component is between 40% and 60% of total state gas taxes, then total "farebox cost recovery" of the highway system is between 30% and 35%.

While "nobody serious seriously believes that gas taxes fully fund our nation's highways", anybody who has read the Tea Party Parade that fills many online newspaper comments sections when a rail project is covered knows that lots of people are happy to make the absurd claim.

Now, that absurd claim is simply wishful thinking. It collapses immediately when presented with the publicly available Federal Highway Administration figures. The fact that it is confidently stated by so many serves to establish how many people are happy to state facts that are blatantly false, often passed on from someone else equally misinformed because it sounded like something that ought to be true.

But while it is, obviously, a Highway Lie every time it is presented, its is not the Big Highway Lie.

What The Big Highway Lie Is Not, Part II

Last year, the New America Foundation was among those covering the most recent efforts to raise the alarm over the Infrastructure Deficit in the US. As it reported:

How big is the infrastructure deficit given our needs?

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates [pdf]the U.S. needs $2.2 trillion dollars of infrastructure spending during the next 5 years, of which $1.18 trillion has not been budgeted.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that we must spend $105.6 billion annually from 2007 to 2026 to sustain current conditions and performance. To improve conditions annual expenditure could be up to $174.6 billion.  The National Bridge Investment Analysis System (NBIAS) estimates $98.9 billion should be invested immediately to repair bridge deficiencies.  The Highway Economic Requirements System (HERS) model estimates that $523.5 billion could be spent on roads and highways based on poor current conditions and operational performance.  Across many modes of infrastructure, impacting every sector of the economy, there are significant needs for infrastructure repairs and upgrades.

... and the farebox recovery ratio above is not a ratio of physical cost imposed upon the highway system by driving, but a ratio of revenues to our inadequate highway spending. From the ASCE report cited above (p. 99), 5yr road spending of $380.5b can be set against total investment needs of $930b, for a 59% shortfall. So ASCE reckoning implies a physical cost recovery ratio of 12% to 15% for our highway system.

However convenient those physical cost recovery ratios may be, in my view the American Society of Civil Engineers is overstating investment needs, based on a fundamental flaw in reasoning:

Next to safety, congestion has become the most critical challenge facing our highway system. Congestion continues to worsen to the point at which Americans spend 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic at a cost of $78.2 billion a year in wasted time and fuel costs—$710 per motorist. The average daily percentage of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) under congested conditions rose from 25.9% in 1995 to 31.6% in 2004, congestion in large urban areas exceeding 40%. And as a result of increased congestion, total fuel wasted climbed from 1.7 billion gallons in 1995 to 2.9 billion gallons in 2005.
Since spending on roadworks does not alleviate congestion over the long term, road "investment" justified on the basis of the "need" to alleviate congestion is akin to bleeding a patient again because they are still weak, despite already having been bled several times before.

However, the ASCE report (p.99-100) cites the work of the The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission, which estimated $130b required annually per year to maintain "key conditions and performance measures at current levels, ...". This implies that expected spending is 59% of system maintenance needs, and "only" 41% short. So a more reasonable physical cost recovery ratio would be 17% to 21%.

Lots of "serious" people neglect the difference between the cost of driving in terms of the requirement imposed on system maintenance and the funds directed to maintenance, but the reality is that even as we proceed with building new roads, and new lanes, we are running down the system that we have. As a nation, we are treating our nation's road infrastructure like the Penn Central railroad treated its railway network in the 50's and 60's, running it down, every once in a while drawing up an unfunded plan to catch up on deferred maintenance, and then running it down some more.

But while portraying the spending on maintenance as equal to the maintenance cost of our highway system is a Highway Lie every time it is presented, its is not the Big Highway Lie.

The Big Highway Lie

The big highway lie is assumed throughout the critique of the two smaller highway lies above. The big highway lie is:

  • the cost of supporting the motor vehicle transport system is the cost of maintaining our road system

The Big Highway Lie is, in other words, assuming that the only "public" cost of driving is providing a road system. Consider the data originally from Douglas Lee (1995) on the full cost pricing of highways for the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (presented in Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis II - Literature Review (p. 2-6), estimating highway costs not recovered from users, include highway maintenance, administration, parking, disposal of scrapped and abandoned vehicles, pollution from tires, used oil and lubricants, and toxic materials, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, tax subsidies to oil production, public medical costs from accidents, uncompensated losses from accidents, air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, cost of noise barriers, and the tax transfers already discussed in part above in the state and local sales tax exemptions, but also including the Federal gasohol exemption, Federal corporate income tax exemptions, and local government property tax exemptions.

Out of $382b in costs associated with highways, user revenues were $52b. Notable external costs remaining after direct costs of new highway construction, highway maintenance, and $38b in tax transfers are taken out, which exhausts direct user revenues several times over, include (and remember that this was a 1995 study):

  • ~$68b parking
  • ~$68b pollution
  • ~$14b accidents
  • ~$15b in administration, research and traffic police

And that cost of accidents was the external, financial costs of accidents, and omits the costs to motorists themselves.

Since this was 1995, the greenhouse gas emissions impact is entirely omitted, and even with that emission, the full cost recovery is under 14%. And since this was a 1995, the full cost recovery figure will be even lower today, as the Federal gas taxes are not indexed to either general, consumer price, or construction cost inflation, and the costs of road maintenance have risen substantially faster than the the growth in fuel tax revenues.

Steel Interstates and the Big Highway Lie

(1) Not only do highway gas taxes not fully pay for our highways,
(2) Nobody actually fully pays for our highways, since we are running down the system, and
(3) covering all highway costs would still leave shift the majority of the public costs of driving onto the third party victims of driving.

However did we build up this system in the first place? Well, for one thing, the gasoline tax, corrected for inflation, used to be higher. And for another thing, the cross-subsidy from unfunded streets and boulevards used to be much larger, as in the 1950's a majority of driving occured on unfunded streets. And for a third thing, when we were just building the system, the highway maintenance bill was smaller, since we had fewer highway lane-miles to maintain.

But we've built up a system that we cannot "afford" to keep, at least based on our willingness to pay. So we have to do one or both of two things: increase what we are willing to pay, or reduce the cost of keeping the system.

So, what is the relevance of all of that to the Steel Interstate system? Let me go back to the CBO Alternative Approaches to Funding Highways study (blog & link to pdf):

... Heavy trucks travel less than 10 percent of all vehicle miles, but their costs per mile are far higher than are those for passenger vehicles, and they are responsible for most pavement damage.
According to an Addendum to the US DOT 1997 Federal Highway Cost Allocation Study, the Federal cost allocation for "single unit trucks" was 10.9% and for "combination" trucks, the primary target of the Steel Interstates, was 29.4%.

And the primary purpose of the Steel Interstate system is to get a large share of long haul truck freight off of the highways. Since we are running the system down under the current funding system, each truck ton-mile taken off the highway system is a net benefit in terms of revenue versus needs. And since highway needs more than exhaust revenues from users, the impact on external costs is direct question of whether the external costs are higher for road freight or rail freight. According to Gunther Ellwanger (2000), “External Environmental Costs of Transport - Comparison of Recent Studies,” Social Costs and Sustainable Mobility, ZEW, Physica-Verlag, pp. 15-20. [VTPI lit review, p. 2-9]m, summarizing previous European studies, ECU per thousand tonne-kilometers:

  • Study 1: Road 58.4, Rail 7.3 ~ 8:1 (IWW/INFRAS)
  • Study 2: Road 18-30, Rail 4-7.5 ~ 4:1 - 4.5:1 (ECMT, 1996)
  • Study 3: Road 62, Rail 9 ~ 7:1(ECMT, 1998)
  • Study 4: Road 33.2, Rail 5.3 ~ 6:1  (EU-Greenbook)
  • Study 5: Road 30.6, Rail 2.8 ~ 11:1(ZEW-QUITS)

The ratio of external costs per ton-mile in the studies range from $4-$11 for truck freight for each $1 rail external cost.

So, every ton-mile shifted from road to rail reduces the unfunded burden on our overstretched asphalt highway system. And every ton-mile shifted from road to rail is a net reduction in the entirely unfunded external costs of our road freight transport system.

But, what about the cost of the Steel Interstate system itself?

Wait a minute ... am I pulling a fast one here? Am I counting the costs of the highway system, and not counting the costs of the Steel Interstate system?

I am, indeed, not proposing to take the interest rate subsidy for Steel Interstate construction out of existing highway funding. So I am, indeed, proposing to increase total transport finance. However:

  • The original capital cost of the system can be funded out of access fees, for the track infrastructure, and user fees, for the electricity supply

That is, the funding that is proposed is the financing of the construction. The Steel Interstate is a substantially more efficient way of moving freight around than the Asphalt Interstate system, and so it can be cover its operating and original capital costs, and still have a substantial competitive advantage in markets currently dominated by truck freight.

How heavy an interest subsidy is required depends on how rapidly we wish to build out the system. The Millenium Institute proposal discussed two weeks ago entailed $450b total cost, including provision of Rapid Freight Rail, electrification of both conventional and Rapid freight rail on mainline corridors and provision of the Electricity Superhighways in support of substantial expansion of sustainable, renewable electricity supply. Based on those costs, my smaller network is in the neighborhood of $200b. A $5b annual interest subsidy would, on federal interest rates of 5% (higher than at present) finance $100b, which would have to be turned over 2 times to complete the system.

And, unlike new highway construction, that $5b would be a "sinking fund". Once the first corridor is completed, it will begin refunding its capital cost. Initially, the refunded capital cost would roll over into more corridor construction, but once the authorized network is completed, the total outstanding debt would be repaid, and the interest cost would begin declining.

In my view, that $5b/year cost ~ under $16 per person per year ~ is fully justified on the basis of eliminating the risk of oil price shocks and oil supply interruptions to interstate industry and commerce.

It is on that basis that I view the benefit in terms of reducing the strain on our underfunded, overburdened road transport system as an additional benefit of the Steel Interstate system.


As always ... the conclusion is to open the floor for discussion. Not just on the Big Highway Lie, but on any issue regarding sustainable transport that comes to mind. And now that the opening act has been concluded, I hand the floor over to the headliners without further ado.

Midnight Oil ~ King of the Mountain

... Rain in the Valley Below ...

Originally posted to Sunday Train on Sun Jun 17, 2012 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks, In Support of Labor and Unions, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Ah, Motor Fuel Tax funding... (5+ / 0-)

    ...what a pain! I got closing out the State MFT funding for City signal projects, which covered several different offices for State (Illinois), City (Chicago), plus several City agencies. All for 5 traffic signal projects a year!

    Thankfully, we ended that!

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Sun Jun 17, 2012 at 05:16:40 PM PDT

  •  I'm trying to access your previous diaries (7+ / 0-)

    I can access the first link, but the second link goes to an error page.

  •  Hmm. Seems there is a problem with two of your (4+ / 0-)

    links to dKos stories: the Sunday Train: Putting Steel  into the Amtrak Long Distance Backbone, and the CBO Alternative Approaches to Funding Highways. I get an error message for both of them.

  •  Would your plan require bigger yards? (5+ / 0-)

    As it is now, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, BNSF, etc move trailers or containers into yards; then local drayage companies pick up the trailers or containers and take them to their final destination.

    If more freight is moving on rails, is this going to require larger rail yards?

    Can high-speed freight rail service use existing intermodal yards?

    •  Its not certain that it would require bigger ... (8+ / 0-)

      ... yards as much as upgraded intermodal technology. There is, for instance, a system in Northwestern Europe that loads containers directly into trains from the side: for something like that, you'd build a new yard.

      There is also the CargoSprinter concept:

      A cargosprinter builds into longer trains by coupling and breaks down by uncoupling, and given a waiting container sideloader could use pretty much any road accessible siding to hand over its load to a short haul truck to complete the journey ~ since a single Cargosprinter might be taking freight from a single industrial park, the loading dock to railhead journey could be quite short for that system.

      And there are also trailercars, that convert from semi-truck trailers to railcars, which also could be marshalled at decentralized locations in short consists and hauled to a rail yard to be formed into a long distance train.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Jun 17, 2012 at 05:51:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Efficient and effective (8+ / 0-)

    I hope that doesn't doom it.

    If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

    by marykk on Sun Jun 17, 2012 at 05:57:06 PM PDT

  •  There you go again (6+ / 0-)

    Resorting to actual numbers, facts and logic. How you expect to get taken seriously in today's political climate I don't know.

    Nobody proposes doing anything any more simply because it makes sense and could actually improve things. The only serious alternatives we are allowed to consider must include some form of pain and sacrifice for the vast majority of people. (And wealth transfers to the few at the top.) And that's coming from the so-called 'liberals' out there; the Right would have us sell off the Asphalt Interstate so it can be profitized.

    Sorry - I'm feeling a bit snarky as an after effect of trying to do something about a work-related problem (not in the best or smartest way perhaps) because I was tired of trusting those with the responsibility to act to get around to doing some simple but necessary things.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Jun 17, 2012 at 06:44:43 PM PDT

  •  Complications (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Highways are all publicly owned—railroads and tracks and rolling stock are often privately owned. How does that affect these possible approaches?

    •  Rolling stock? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      luckydog, RunawayRose, New Rule

      Most freight trucks are privately owned, so there's no difference on that front.

      But regarding the massive costs of land acquisition for road projects, you are correct that this introduces complications that are avoided with the steel interstates by having a Line Development Bank negotiating with the private owner of an already existing privately owned right of way.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Jun 17, 2012 at 08:27:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great analysis, Bruce. NT (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF, LamontCranston, RunawayRose

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Sun Jun 17, 2012 at 08:01:48 PM PDT

  •  What's wrong with current (0+ / 0-)

    rail infrastructure?  I don't understand why we need a new rail system for freight.

    If you want to move freight off the highways and on to rail, simply tax trucks for using the highway system.  That is justifiable because trucks do the most damage.

    •  It doesn't have the capacity to ... (5+ / 0-)

      ... handle freight in the more time sensitive freight markets that it has been driven out of by the massive public subsidy to trucking,, and while simply shfting freight to rail would save on oil consumption, it would not be free of oil consumption, so not yet a system for recovering the economy not subservient to energy imports that we once had.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 05:51:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  We already do in a manner of speaking (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BruceMcF, elfling

      We here in California charge a weight fee based on the carrying capacity and we even have short term charges for over-weight vehicles.  That money used to pay for road maintenance here in California, but now it goes to pay for the transportation bonds, which almost all of it is for capacity increasing projects or mass transit/rail projects, almost none of the bond money is for maintenance of the highways.

      "I watch Fox News for my comedy, and Comedy Central for my news." - Facebook Group

      by Sychotic1 on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 07:12:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Come to Chicago - for an example (0+ / 0-)

      of why the present sysytem is inadequate, though I'm sure its obvious in every city. The list is lengthy. By electrifying the system to would reduce oil usage and create a significant demand for renewable electricity
      The biggest savings come from reduced highway wear & less traffic congestion, thereby further reducing oil needs.

  •  As Long as Electric Railroads (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, New Rule

    Have a higher property tax liability than diesel railroads, very few US railroad miles will be electrified.  

    Similarly, property taxes are higher for double-tracked railroads...I remember when Conrail (at that point private) pulled up the second track between Springfield and Worcester, MA, thereby making it difficult to add capacity if MBTA ever wanted to add Springfield to its system


  •  Trucks and the power of four (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF, socal altvibe, RunawayRose

    While researching concrete variants, I ran across this.

    The damage a vehicle causes is proportional to the axle load raised to the fourth power
    (emphasis added)

    A fully loaded semi weighs 80,000 lbs.  A typical car now weighs 5,000 lbs (yes, cars have become bloated monsters).  Therefore, a truck weighs 16 times as much as a car.  However, that's spread across 5 axles, vs 2 for a car.  So,

    80/5 = 16K lbs per axle.
    5/2 = 2.5K lbs per axle.

    16/2.5 = 6.4 times the weight on each axle.  6.4 raised to the fourth power = 1,677.  (... point 7216, but who cares).

    1,677 * 5 / 2  = 4,194.  (truck axles vs car axles)

    So, in conclusion,

    the damage from trucks is 4,194 times as bad as the damage from cars.
    The federal gasoline tax is 18.4 cents, diesel is 24.4 cents.

    Shouldn't the diesel tax correspond to the effect on the highways?  Say, 18.4 * 4,194, for a tax of $771.60 per gallon?

    Of course, since the current tax doesn't come close to covering the costs, it probably should be a cool $1,000.

    This is my response to the refrain from truckers that they pay lots of taxes via the higher tax on diesel.

    P.S.  I'd be curious to know over how much additional tire surface a truck load is spread, vs a car, and how much that reduces the damage to the road surface (assuming it does), but that's way beyond my feeble skills.


    I am become Man, the destroyer of worlds

    by tle on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 06:35:04 AM PDT

    •  I don't believe the multiple is ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, FishOutofWater

      ... that high, but even the official Federal cost estimates have the heaviest trucks underpaying their cost allotment.

      I think the Federal cost allotment may understate truck costs by some costs apportioned by 'vehicle miles', but would have to do a bit of research to be sure.

      Anyway, since we underfund, even a fair share of funding is a subsidy to trucking.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 07:11:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Any alternative figures? (0+ / 0-)

        Some of the figures could very well be wrong, but which ones?  Do you dispute the "raised to the fourth power" statement?  Or the typical vehicle weights?  Or maybe I have a blatant error in the calculations.

        It occurs to me that I should have incorporated MPG into the calculation, since we currently have no way to charge a tax based purely on mileage.  That would probably reduce the multiple to 1/3, or to about 1,400.  And there's still the issue of tire-to-road surface area.  Dang.  I liked the idea of yelling out "FOUR THOUSAND TIMES AS BAD!".  Still.  Fourteen hundred times is a very big number.

        And I'm still a big fan of shifting most long haul transport back to trains.  For one thing, I don't like being next to those monsters in my car, and for another, I see the road damage every time I try to drive a particular section of I-95 in town.  One of the lanes is nothing but miles of patches and potholes.  It's the lane the trucks use the most.

        BTW, I hope you're just exercising a common usage of the word "believe", rather than actually placing this in the category of issues of faith.  Just another of my many pet peeves, of which I have a menagerie.  As in when people ask, "Do you believe in evolution?".  Er, it's not a subject in which belief is relevant.

        I am become Man, the destroyer of worlds

        by tle on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 07:40:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You got a lot ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... square inch footprint of truck vs car tires, variances in suspension, etc. But even the Federal figures have the heaviest trucks underpaying the most.

          Also not all costs are pavement damage. How one allocates fixed maintenance costs ~ vehicle miles or volume or weight capacity miles ~ will determine a lot, as cars are 90% of vehicle miles, less of capacity or weight miles.

          And fortunately I used the phrase 'believe' properly ~ I do not have all of the facts at hand, and am not prepared to have faith in that estimate being exact. 'faith' is, after all, not restricted to metaphysical or spiritual matters. Lots of the tea party parade have faith that their gas taxes fully fund roads.

          Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 08:11:28 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Vehicle miles (0+ / 0-)

            You say 90% of vehicle miles are from cars. But I wonder what the figures are for some of the highways in the West (where I live and travel). For example, there is a lot of interstate freight hauling on a road like I-80, where I imagine the mileage percentage between cars and trucks may be very different than say, city/suburban Interstates. Any figures available on this?

            PS- Your diaries are always educational and a fine read, thank you.

            "Political ends as sad remains will die." - YES 'And You and I' ; -8.88, -9.54

            by US Blues on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 05:24:59 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  That is a national ... (0+ / 0-)

              ... average ~ I believe there are rural breakdowns, but I don't know if there are breakdowns by region. I'm not at my home computer at the moment, but if I have time tomorrow, I'll have a look.

              But remember that highway mileage is not just Interstate highways, it is Interstate and National and State and County and Township mileage, and car mileage adds up on those side roads as well.

              Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

              by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 06:31:54 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  I posted this above but just to repeat (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      they also pay weight fees in many states as well as the diesel tax.  It is intended to mitigate just the sort of additional damage you are referring to.

      "I watch Fox News for my comedy, and Comedy Central for my news." - Facebook Group

      by Sychotic1 on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 07:15:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Granted, but the amounts aren't that great. (0+ / 0-)

        I found this*, and looked at a really expensive state, Colorado.

        $2,373.00 for over 74,000 pounds and driven more than 30,000 miles per year plus $10.00.
        Using the adjusted figure of 1,400 (see other response), times 18.4 cents, they'd get about 10 miles before surpassing that amount, not 30,000.

        If that "power of 4" rule is anywhere close to correct, it reduces every tax out there to insignificance.

        *  Don't know if the link is correct.  For some reason it wouldn't copy, so I entered it manually.

        I am become Man, the destroyer of worlds

        by tle on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 07:58:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  the DOT truck share figures linked ... (0+ / 0-)

        ... to in the article (Addendum etc.) include weight charges.

        Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 08:13:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Michigan Uses More Axels (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      When you see big truck/trailer combinations in Michigan they have a LOT of axels compared to what I see here in California.

      Does that help?

      Help! The GOP is NUTS (& the Dems need some!)

      by Tuba Les on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 02:55:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for your great diaries (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, BruceMcF

    I plan to print them out and prepare talking points from them for use in badgering right-wingers and the ill-informed (but I repeat myself).  

    In the 1980's, I was the budget analyst for a state DOT highway division.  At that time, we KNEW much of what you have exposed here, but our political masters not only shut down any reasoned discussion in-house, but caused us to cease publication of annual financial reports that could lead to questions by outsiders (i.e., taxpayers).

    Also, back in the '80's, the rail division was considered a bunch of harmless cranks and were both mocked and marginalized within the agency.  This was easy to do because the road builders were the biggest contributors to our state politicians and what they wanted, they got.  Plus ca change.....

    Recently, the state has decided to add 3d lanes to a section of Interstate that runs through some of the best ag land on the planet.  Another horrendous cost of highways.

  •  Just for amusement, call your local railroad (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, lurker123, BruceMcF, New Rule

    At the risk of telling a long and strange tale about shipping, let's just say that I attempted to move bulk freight on our local railroad.  When I called the state corporate headquarters, I discovered that no one answers the phone.  Literally, you can't call them, the state's biggest railroad does not want to hear from customers.  So, I cornered a local VP I know socially.  She told me they were not interested in being a railroad.  Instead, they were a real estate company.  If you call that end of their business, it works like any business.  Their owner bought the line looking to own significant property in the middle of every town and city in the state, and that is where they make their money.  Shipping my freight was out of the question.  

    Our state has made significant efforts to expand the role of rail in our transportation system.  That requires upgrading the tracks.  The biggest impediment to that improvement is our local rail company.  Really, it takes years to work out an agreement and the cost per mile is way too high.  I had the opportunity to ask the chairman of our legislative committee overseeing this why the State does not simply exercise its right of eminent domaine, take the line, make the improvements and pay the railroad when the courts rule on its value.  It would be substantially cheaper, and it would clear the way for the next improvement.  He acknowledged that all the points I was making were right, but I was overlooking the wealth of the owner and the risk to himself, the chairman, personally.  As usual, our biggest problem is the plutocrat in charge.

    There is no doubt that our nation needs to restore rail as its primary freight system (with a much more significant role for ports, but that is another story).  There are a number of impediments to the policy changes that would make this possible, but the biggest ones in my experience are the railroads themselves.  Writing about how we get from where we are to where we need to go, this series offers any number of worthwhile truths.  What I still don't know, though, is how we get the deadwood out of the path our nation needs to follow.

    •  that won't be the case for every class I ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, New Rule

      ... UP, BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Canadian Northern, they'll have regional shipping offices that answer the phone. But under the current massive subsidy to truck freight, railroads focus on the bulk freight and transcontinental container trains where they retain an edge despite the subsidies to trucks.

      Some branch lines are in the railroad business, others in the property speculation business, but the ones in the railroad business would have one or more big industrial customers.

      For carloads, you'd put them in a container, call a container shipping company and they'd work out how they go, truck, rail, barge, etc. With the Steel Interstate system in place, a whole hell of a lot more of them would go by rail.

      The point of the Steel Interstate is to change the schedule reliability / transit time / cost calculus that puts the bulk of most long distance shipping markets, except for very large, 'patient' shipments and very bulky freight, onto cross country trucks.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 08:54:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Scrap steel (0+ / 0-)

        The immediate issue was shipment of scrap steel, mostly across the country.  It is a natural product for rail shipment, but I could not work out a way to get it in rail cars.  The closest we came was a scheme whereby it would be trucked to a Canadian National Railroad siding, and reloaded there (note: I am in a border state).  I could market to Canadians; pricing was OK.  The reloading costs were just too high.  

        I explored this with a couple of local industries.  Their buyers (with whom I had a pretty good relationship) reported that their companies much preferred rail transportation of their finished products, but that same railroad just made that impossible.  Over the past several decades, they have reduced the role of rail in their mix such that it now is seldom used.  So, they shipped with trucks, much to their competitive disadvantage.  We are beating the hell out of our highways, and we are losing that industrial base.  

        I recall one of my college courses, more decades ago than I care to recall, wherein we studied the affect of plutocratic control in our city.  Plutocrats stifle: prosperity, growth, change, ... you name it .  It's like fish gotta swim, and birds gotta fly.  Our plutocrat in this instance is doing what they do - Rentier capitalism.  What is our nation to do about that?

        •  The Steel Interstate ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          ... is one slice of the answer ~ increase the rewards available for short lines to get back into the carload business again, and some short lines will exploit the opportunity. Their success will shift the appeal of the corridors as working assets vs speculative real estate, and industrialists will expand at the expense of the rentier.

          Its not a silver bullet solution, but then as I do not believe that silver bullet solutions are likely to be available, I do not spend time looking for them. I'd rather slice away at the problem with real solutions to specific slices.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 12:26:17 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  How about... (0+ / 0-)

            ...we Nationalize the railroads in the name of national defense, and general sanity. Out here in the West the gummint gave them their land in the first place, time to take it back.

            "Political ends as sad remains will die." - YES 'And You and I' ; -8.88, -9.54

            by US Blues on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 05:33:38 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well, you know, if they elected me ... (0+ / 0-)

              ... dictator in chief ...

              ... well, then flee to Canada, because it would be a sign that this old Republic had become plumb crazy.

              Seriously, it may well be conceptually simpler, in broad outline, than working out a policy that would level the playing field and allow the physical efficiencies of rail for long distance freight to take over ...

              ... but the last time we actually did a policy with effects as dramatic as the Steel Interstate might be, we did not do it by appointing a dictator in chief ...

              ... we did it the much messier way that we first built the US National Road system and then the US Interstate Highway system.

              However, national defense is a substantial part of the rationale for a Steel Interstate system. One simpler way to describe the policy is "electrify the Dept. of Defense STrategic RAil Corridor NETwork system", or "electrify STRACNET".

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              by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 06:38:44 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  On the latter point ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... the Steel Interstates is how. They get real, clear benefit, and do not have to carry heavy debt burdens in order to gain those benefits, which is critical for heavily leveraged rail companies.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 09:34:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I Get It, However (0+ / 0-)

    This is all more or less irrelevant as long as we insist on not getting rid of 90% of the deadbeat, corrupt people in congress. and yes, that includes "democrats".

    "The fundamental strength of the economy is unimpaired". Herbert Hoover December 2, 1930

    by Superpole on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 08:04:15 AM PDT

    •  Actually no ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... that's why the benefits to lots of Big Business is a critical factor. While this is a strong GHG emissions reduction policy, it also helps businesses avoid shipping costs spiking during oil price shocks.

      The tea party parade is a wholly owned subsidiary of big oil and close yellow bellied surplus sucking allies, so they have to be beaten, but it is not necessary to defeat the whole of the permanent Corporate Party majority for the policy to be put into place.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 09:31:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Where are the rail lines that run to/from (0+ / 0-)

    Detroit?   There is a rail connection currently to Chicago, but for people going to the east coast, the connection is either Toledo or Chicago.  

    Surely it would be cheaper to move cars and parts back and forth by rail?  

    I never have understood that blank spot in the rail system.

    Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by maybeeso in michigan on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 08:44:57 AM PDT

    •  The truck freight ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... routes are:

      The rail corridor connections certainly exist to the major motor vehicle assembly plants in Michigan and Ohio to the National Line ... an advantage of rail for this system is you haul a train on a non-electrified line to the Steel Interstate, swap a locomotive or use a dual power locomotive and its electric ~ the railcars don't care what traction is hauling them.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 10:00:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •   Is the map your abbreviated system? (0+ / 0-)

    Good coverage of the USA. Thanks for the article. I've always loved railroads and believe this and high speed passenger service are the answers to many issues facing this country. Two points - your map shows nine intersection points (transfer hubs) which would create and  generate significant new economic activity in those areas. This could be a source of revenues, remember the interstate highway system caused an economic explosion.
    Secondly - The tax subsidies that the oil industry receives seem to be in the amount you mentioned. A source to start this up and then available to build out the regional high-speed passenger rail lines that would complement the steel interstate.  

    •  there are lots of transfer points ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... since there are also transfers between the Steel Interstate system and the rest of the railgrid and transfers with short haul trucking.

      the map is organized into three 'lines': the Liberty, Heartland and National lines, to be built and operated by 'line development banks', organized on the model of regional development banks.

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      by BruceMcF on Tue Jun 19, 2012 at 06:43:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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