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8/3/2005
SPECIAL REPORT: Thumbs up, thumbs down -- Highway Bill reviews mixed

As more information from the Highway Bill makes its way into the limelight, the reaction from around the country has been one of support from some groups and downright outrage from others.

On Aug. 3 , the Teamsters issued a press release praising the legislation, singling out provisions in the bill, including:

  • A requirement for the Department of Transportation to implement inspection and maintenance regulations for inter-modal chassis to ensure that they meet federal motor carrier safety standards;
  • A requirement for Mexican and Canadian drivers who haul hazardous materials to undergo criminal background checks similar to those required of American truckers; and
  • Opening the door for drivers who can prove their insulin-treated diabetes is under control to drive commercial vehicles in interstate commerce.

Safety groups are voicing approva of safety provisions, including $29 million a year for high-visibility enforcement efforts to curb drunken driving and grants to states that either pass primary seat belt laws - which let police stop vehicles for seat belt violations - or achieve a belt usage rate of 85 percent.

Primary seat belt laws have been approved in only 21 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, so the incentives could coax more states into action.

Also under the bill, the government would issue new rules requiring rollover prevention technology by 2009, an update to the roof strength standard, and improved side-impact crash protection in vehicles by 2008. This drew particular praise from Joan Claybrook and Public Citizen.

Meanwhile, many state and local governments were applauding the Highway Bill as their congressional representatives returned home for the August recess to boast about provisions for projects in their home districts.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-MO, called the bill a "great victory" for Missouri, which will receive more than $200 million in new highway funds each year.

Others sharply criticized the bill for many of these pet projects, saying they were unnecessary and that too much money was being thrown at the special projects of a few powerful lawmakers.

Keith Ashdown, vice president of policy for watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, told CNN that the bill, which contains an estimated $24 billion in earmarked projects, has set a dangerous record.

"This bill will be known as the most earmarked transportation bill in the history of our nation," he said.

The non-profit American Highway Users Alliance is currently reviewing the provisions, evaluating what is relevant to highway users. In its first review, it selected congestion relief as a provision of interest. The bill requires the Secretary of Transportation to establish a real-time information program to provide the capability to monitor real-time traffic and travel conditions on major highways. The purpose is to identify longer range real-time needs and develop plans for meeting needs and provide the capability to share information to the traveling public.

The Alliance also spotted the truck parking provision in Section 1305 of the Highway Bill. This tells the transportation secretary toestablish a pilot program to address the shortage of long-term parking of commercial motor vehicles on the National Highway System and funds this project at $6.25 million each year from fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2009.

The American Movers and Storage Association didn't waste any time in commending Congress for approving legislation that won't skimp on household goods consumer protection provisions. Joe Harrison, president of the AMSA, said the provision will address the growing problem of rogue movers who rip off unsuspecting consumers moving from one state to another. Harrison indicated there will be administrative burdens, but it will be worth it.

President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law sometime before Aug. 14, the date when the current extension of the 1998 Highway Bill expires.

Land Line will provide detailed coverage in coming days on this Web site and on "Land Line Now" on XM Satellite Radio's Channel 171.

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