Regulating Semi Trucks Could Ease Phoenix Rush Hour Traffic

semi truck
(Wikipedia)

I’ve had to drive the Phoenix freeways to and from work for many years and one of the things I’ve learned is that commercial semi-trucks are a major source of traffic congestion during rush hours – probably accounting for up to a third of the problem. They obviously take up a lot of space, but the biggest problem they cause is they disrupt the efficient flow of traffic because of their inability to accelerate and decelerate as quickly as cars.

I suggest that we should do something about it and the most effective solution would be to ban semi trucks from Arizona’s urban freeways from 7-9AM, and again from 4-6PM, every Monday through Friday.  This isn’t a new idea. Los Angeles proposed to limit big rig trucks on its freeways in 1988. The idea gained favor when a temporary trucking ban on the city’s freeways during the 1984 Summer Olympics led to a 60% reduction in traffic congestion. But L.A.’s plan to make the big rig ban permanent was stymied by a federal law that requires a comparable alternate route for any stretch of federally funded freeway that’s made off limits to trucks. This means that trucks couldn’t be banned in Phoenix until the controversial South Mountain Freeway gets built, as this new outer loop would provide truckers with an alternative to the stretch of Interstate 10 that runs through the middle of town.

One solution to this roadblock would be to get the federal law changed. But that would require a gridlocked Congress to agree on something. In the meantime, there are still some things local governments can do. In California, for example, semi trucks must drive in the slower, right-hand lanes. If the highway has three lanes or less, excluding a carpool lane, they can use only use the far right lane. If there are four lanes or more, they can use the two lanes farthest to the right. Adoption of these rules in Arizona would also solve the problem of semi trucks using carpool lanes. (Arizona law ARS 28-737, which governs the use of carpool lanes during rush hours, allows semis to use them as long as there at least two passengers.)

Another solution would be to make it more expensive for truckers to be on Arizona’s urban freeways during rush hours. They could be required to buy expensive decals and stick them on their trucks if they want to drive through town without getting a ticket during these busy hours. This would make them bear more of the cost of the traffic congestion they are causing, and the proceeds could be dedicated to improving public transportation.

I realize the stranglehold the far-right has on the Arizona legislature means any of these changes would face some stiff political opposition. There’d probably be the usual conservative think tank sponsored crapola about government overreach, and the trucking industry lobbyists would warn everybody the new rules would cause an economic catastrophe. But the traffic law changes I’ve proposed would create enormous savings in time and gasoline for many thousands of people, and also reduce air pollution – more than offsetting any increases in commercial transportation costs that might result.

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