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1/31/2012
First look at the House's four-year transportation bill
By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor

At first glance, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s four-year surface transportation bill contains some wins for small-business trucking, but will those be enough to overcome possible deal breakers such as longer and heavier trucks on federal highways? Here’s a look inside the bill released on Tuesday, Jan. 31.

For starters, the bill calls for approximately $260 billion in funding for surface transportation, but the exact amount for highways was not known as of press time.

From OOIDA’s standpoint, the positives in the bill include provisions for truck parking and driver training, a study of crashworthiness in truck cabs, and a study of the adverse effects of regulation on small-business truckers.

The bill would increase bonds for brokers and freight forwarders from $10,000 to $100,000. Another provision would establish a national highway bridge and tunnel inventory and upgrade inspection standards.

The bill would also require states to address high-risk railroad crossings and consolidate a number of obsolete or duplicative DOT programs.

It would clamp down on chameleon carriers that are forced to close down only to reopen under different names.

But the bill includes some possible deal breakers as well.

A large elephant in the room and one that OOIDA is most concerned about in the bill is a provision to increase allowable truck weights on federally funded highways. The bill would increase truck weight to 97,000 pounds on six axles from the current system of 80,000 pounds on five axles.

It would allow states to increase weights to 126,000 pounds on 25-mile stretches of interstates and give states latitude to permit longer combination vehicles, or LCVs, including double and triple trailers. It would also allow car haulers to weigh up to 88,000 pounds.

OOIDA has long been an opponent of LCVs and heavier truck weights as an industry norm. The Association has members who haul specialty loads by permit but does not believe LCVs and heavier trucks should become the status quo. See related coverage at landlinemag.com.

Additional items of concern are the reduction in the overall federal role in highways and a proposed increased reliance on the private sector to build and operate infrastructure for profit.

The bill calls for the U.S. DOT to establish best practices for public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects and provide technical assistance to states. For all intents and purpose, that could lead to more roads and bridges built as tollways with profit guarantees for the investors. For truckers, it could mean increased cost of operation.

Speaking of tolls, the bill would allow tolls to be considered for new infrastructure including new lanes added to existing roadways. It would allow a certain number of existing interstates to be tolled, as well. Congestion mitigation lanes such as high-occupancy lanes are included in the toll proposal.

The bill calls for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) to be funded with $1 billion. This would be used to fund large-scale projects including congestion mitigation, PPPs and toll roads. The bill also lays out $750 million to fund state infrastructure banks.

While OOIDA does not categorically oppose tolls for new infrastructure that adds capacity, the concern is about more private-sector control and less public accountability for infrastructure.

OOIDA leadership continues to review the contents of the 800-plus page bill.

House lawmakers in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee plan to mark up the bill on Thursday, Feb. 2. Even if it passes in committee, the provisions must meet Senate approval before it can advance.

Given some of the “pay fors” in the bill, such as proceeds from oil drilling being used to fund transportation programs, the bill is sure to draw some partisan lines in the sand.

Copyright © OOIDA

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