TRUCKERS LIKE TRANSPORT POLICY BUT OPPOSE TOLL COLLECTION PLAN

TRUCKERS LIKE TRANSPORT POLICY BUT OPPOSE TOLL COLLECTION PLAN

Trucking officials support much of the Bush administration's new national transportation policy but oppose toll collection on roads built with federal

funds, industry representatives said.

Robert Farris, vice president for policy at American Trucking Associations, said the government's new transportation strategy adopts a ''reasonable approach" on most trucking issues."We're also pleased that they're continuing (highway transportation) programs without calling for an increase in taxes," he said.

But Mr. Farris, who served as Federal Highway Administrator in 1988, said the policy may rely too heavily on toll collection as a new source of highway funding.

President Bush and Samuel K. Skinner, secretary of transportation, are scheduled to release the government's new national transportation policy on Thursday. Copies of the document have been circulating in Washington, however, and The Journal of Commerce published a summary of the report on Monday.

The new policy, under development for the last nine months, relies heavily on the states and the private sector to manage and fund many transportation projects.

The government's new plan backs several long-standing trucking requests, such as uniform vehicle registration and tax reporting requirements among the states. Under current procedures, states use different systems for registering trucks and collecting taxes, which create administrative headaches for many companies.

The new transportation policy calls the present system "a burden on interstate commerce that is difficult to justify."

Mr. Farris also praised the policy for focusing attention on "highways of national significance."

"There is a federal commitment to a spine network of highways, a system of about 155,000 to 160,000 miles, that carries about 70 percent of the commercial traffic," he said.

The Transportation Department says federal spending should be concentrated on this core network of roads.

Industry officials also were satisfied with the government's commitment to reduce the surpluses in the Highway Trust Fund.

The new policy pledges to "honor the trust in the trust funds" by spending the $10 billion balance in a "fiscally responsible" manner. Federal officials have been reluctant to spend all of the money in the funds, in part to keep the budget deficit from worsening.

Mr. Farris acknowledged the need to retain enough money in the fund to cover existing commitments. Even so, he said the government could draw down the fund's reserves and increase highway spending from about $13 billion a year to $18 billion for the next four years.

But truckers are likely to oppose revenue-raising plans that call for a substantial increase in the number of toll roads.