CLEVELAND — Ohio has joined Missouri and two other states studying a proposal to create separate lanes for commercial trucks traveling along 800 miles of Interstate 70.
Officials from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri have signed a development agreement that includes using a consultant and $5 million in federal funds to study what would be the nation's first truck-only interstate corridor. Federal officials have designated the busy stretch of road as a "Corridor of the Future," making the states eligible for assistance.
Supporters say the plan originally submitted to U.S. transportation officials in 2007 would increase safety, decrease traffic congestion and allow trucks to move freight more efficiently by hauling more trailers at once.
The proposal would create truck-only lanes in the medians of existing interstates or as new bypasses on roads with no medians. It points out that I-70 is a major connector between major metropolitan areas, nine other interstates and a variety of airports and rail lines.
"It is a fascinating topic, in part because it truly recognizes what an economic link I-70 is," said Scott Varner, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Missouri has been studying the idea on its 200 miles of I-70 for a decade and has concluded that truck-lanes might help decreasing accidents and fatalities, said Bob Brendel, I-70 project manager for the Missouri Department of Transportation.
But some drivers aren't so quick to jump onboard, especially if a multibillion-dollar project to construct the lanes means more tolls for them.
Long-haul trucker Lee Klass of Portland, Ore., drives through the area and said he doesn't see a need to segregate trucks from other vehicles.
"We co-exist," he said. "It's not great but works for all practical purposes. Charging tolls to pay for the lanes sounds like a solution looking for a problem."
One problem might be truckers turning to other routes to avoid the toll, though they might feel safer in the lanes designated for their rigs, said Larry Davis, president of the Ohio Trucking Association.
The shift to other routes occurred a decade ago when the Ohio Turnpike increased its tolls, but truckers have returned to the turnpike as rates were lowered and the speed limit was raised.