By Tim Brown
CIP Senior Analyst
During the recent interim, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) commissioned a study to determine the appropriate fee structure for oversize and/or overweight vehicle (OS/OW) permit fees. The report looked only at the impact of OS/OW vehicles on state infrastructure – local county roads and bridges were not included.
The 82nd Legislature initiated this study in Rider 36, which required TxDOT to conduct it. In December 2012, the Center for Transportation Research (at the University of Austin and the University of Austin at San Antonio), as commissioned by TxDOT, released the study’s findings.
The report highlights several important factors and makes a number of recommendations including:
- Concludes the state’s current OS/OW permit fee structure is not adequate to recoup OS/OW vehicle-related damages to existing state infrastructure.
- Proposes an alternate fee structure that links fees to the actual cost of OS/OW vehicles’ use of roads and bridges. This proposed structure would use vehicle miles travelled and those vehicle characteristics that exceed legal limits (weight, height, width and length) to determine the permit fees. Operational and safety costs are included in the proposed fee structure.
- Recommends reducing the number of exempted vehicle classes and permit types.
The study concludes that adopting the proposed alternate fee structure would have increased annual state OS/OW permit revenue from $111 million to $521 million in FY 2011 – a $410 million increase. The state would have collected an additional $150 million by applying the model to many of the currently exempted vehicles as the study proposes. (The study included currently exempted vehicles and estimated the impact of vehicles operating illegally.)
In addition to looking at OS/OW vehicle permit fees, the study also assessed overweight fines. The researchers determined that the average overweight truck citation is $110, near the minimum that can be administered under state law.i The report notes that previous studies have found that low fines do not discourage illegal overweight truck operations and may encourage some truckers to risk operating without a permit.
Rather than make a recommendation regarding overweight fines, the report recommends additional study. However, the report recommends that fines should be deposited in Fund 6, although it does not specifically state whether or not this is merely the state’s share, “because these vehicles cause accelerated pavement and bridge consumption rates.”
As counties currently retain 50 percent of overweight fines (100 percent if within 20 miles of the international border), an increase in the fine structure could benefit counties financially. However, as the state’s share of fines amounts to only about $1.6 million dollars, the increase in fine revenue would not substantially impact counties’ bottom line.
Although the report notes that often various restrictions (e.g., underpass clearances) force OS/OW vehicles off of major roads, the researchers only studied the impact to state roads per their mandate. While the report explicitly states that counties would benefit from the adoption of the proposed fee schedule, it is not possible to say at this time whether the benefits would be sufficient to cover the cost of damages to county roads by OS/OW vehicles.
The full report, with an executive summary, is available online.
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§621.506, Transportation Code