Persistence pays off in new highway bill.

By Jami Jones, managing editor and

Sandi Soendker, editor-in-chief

This highway bill isn't OOIDA's first rodeo. The organization has been through a few. As much as one could think that it's old hat and that there might be a "been there, done that" mentality, this highway bill marks a significant turning point in D.C. for truckers.

But first, a little background from Sandi.

In 1991, Congress hammered out the highway bill known as ISTEA – Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. It was not the first time the federal government assisted states in highway costs, but it was the first transportation bill of the post-interstate era and it was the first one I covered for Land Line as a reporter.

I keenly recall the reaction from truckers on the effect it had on trucking. There was plenty of desk-pounding here during those years accompanied by vows that in the future OOIDA would have a louder voice. ISTEA cracked open the piggy bank for states to spend highway funds on all kinds of non-highway programs ­– mass transit got most – and the uproar was deafening.

Skip to 1998 and Congress passed TEA-21, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. TEA-21 for the most part reclaimed the Highway Trust Fund, a goal of the House T&I Committee Chairman Bud Shuster. U.S. Rep. James L. Oberstar of Minnesota supported Shuster, saying "we have been working for 30 years to bring the Highway Trust Fund back to the position where the revenues in are the revenues spent out and invested in the nation's transportation needs." TEA-21's low blow to truckers was – despite OOIDA's efforts – that it provided for two pilot programs, which essentially said "hello, toll roads."

The next long-term highway bill was enacted in 2005. Another TEA bill – this one was dubbed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users. Called SAFETEA-LU, it took us a year to memorize its official title. This is the one that contained 6,300 earmarks. For OOIDA and truckers, a glaring omission was a mandatory fuel surcharge, dropped in the eleventh hour of conference committee.

The frustrating challenges that faced truckers to influence certain critical issues prompted OOIDA to expand lobbying efforts by establishing a fully staffed office in D.C. in 2005. Since then, the lobbying efforts have been relentless.

Fast forward to 2012 to where Jami picks up.

Joining the Land Line team in 2004, I saw the retooling and doubling down on efforts by the Association.

The insider view afforded to the staff here at Land Line cannot be overstated. We sit in and hear strategy planning meetings, attend OOIDA Board of Director meetings. We are the proverbial fly on the wall.

It's because of those strategy meetings, designed to capitalize on the passion and desire of OOIDA members to have their voices heard, and well-executed follow through that we began to see the tide turn in 2012 with the short-term Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century legislation.

Aside from everyone being relieved we had an easy highway title to remember, there was some good stuff in there for truckers. One biggie was the prohibition on coercion. Lawmakers heard the stories of drivers being pressured to violate hours of service, to drive bum equipment and basically put themselves and others in danger.

It was one of the first big, potentially game-changing pieces of legislation included in a highway bill. We're seeing FMCSA's first step toward addressing this chronic problem in the industry. (Read more on page 30.)

That two-year bill barely gave Congress a chance to breathe in legislative terms to come up with another highway bill. OOIDA didn't even slow down on its advocacy on the hill.

There's no way to express the amount of shoe leather spent pounding the halls of Congress by the D.C. staff. The personal visits with lawmakers from OOIDA members. The countless letters and phone calls. It was a full-on assault of trucker-centric representation.

This year both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed highway bills – respectively, the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act or DRIVE Act and the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act or STRR Act of 2015.

And, whoa. The efforts of OOIDA and its membership are obvious.

First, reforms of FMCSA are included in both bills.

Long-time complaints of OOIDA and its membership that the FMCSA is regulating without understanding of long-term realities and without sufficient justification are addressed. While the bills have varying language on how it will be addressed, the likelihood that FMCSA reform language will be included in the final bill is about as certain as you can get with anything in Congress. How far it goes remains to be seen. Regardless, chalk up big win No. 1.

Second, reform of Compliance, Safety and Accountability safety measurement program. I could tick off the long list of criticisms from truckers, lawmakers and researchers. It's hurting small-business truckers, and it needs fixing. FMCSA dug in its heels and hasn't changed its ways. Both the Senate and House bills will leave FMCSA no choice but to make some serious changes to CSA. Big win No. 2.

As we go to press, members of the Senate and House are meeting in a conference committee to merge the two bills into one, resolving language differences and such. The goal is to have a conference committee report written the week of Thanksgiving and a final bill presented to the House on Nov. 30.

While the bill will certainly still have some groaner language in it, we know that without all of OOIDA's hard work and commitment, it would not have this ground-breaking, game-changing language.

Watch for updates and full analysis on the highway bill. LL