Senate committee approves transportation bill

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 11/9/2011

For the first time in six years, a congressional committee has approved a multiyear surface transportation authorization bill – or at least a portion of it. Truckers can see some positives in the bill such as truck parking, but it also contains some possible deal breakers.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved S1813, also known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21, by unanimous vote on Wednesday, Nov. 9.

S1813 is a two-year transportation policy and funding bill that aims to spend $85 billion. Funding details have yet to emerge, and the bill contains a $12 billion shortfall.

OOIDA leadership is keeping an eye on the bill’s provisions and amendments.

For starters, the bill addresses the need to repair and upgrade deficient roads and bridges, and that’s a positive. Another positive is the inclusion of a “Jason’s Law” provision to bring about more safe and adequate truck parking on the national network.

The bill aims to consolidate federal transportation programs and accelerate infrastructure project delivery time. OOIDA also views those as positives.

Not all provisions are favorable to trucking, however. One proposal pushes for freight rail to be funded using highway dollars. OOIDA opposes the diversion of highway dollars for non-highway uses.

The bill also calls for more private-sector dollars to be used in transportation, and that could lead to more toll roads. The bill, however, does not change the current policy on the tolling of interstates.

Still absent in the bill at this stage is a motor carrier safety title. That’s where things like speed limiters and electronic on-board recorders could surface.

Other Senate committees will conduct markups and add their provisions to the bill as it moves along.

Just to get to this stage required a bipartisan effort. EPW Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-CA; ranking Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma; Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT; and the subcommittee’s ranking Republican David Vitter of Louisiana spoke highly of the negotiation process that got the bill to this point.

During committee proceedings, Boxer read a list of associations that have provided input into the bill thus far, and mentioned OOIDA by name. While the Association is not going to endorse the bill at this stage, the acknowledgement of small-business truckers did not go unnoticed.

“We appreciate that Congress is moving ahead with a highway bill and that our members were mentioned as stakeholders during the Senate hearing,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.

“The inclusion of Jason’s Law is encouraging, but we need to make sure that small-business truckers are not parked permanently because of possible funding options like tolling or privatization of public highways or harmful provisions in the motor carrier safety title, which we still have yet to see.”

In the House of Representatives, lawmakers could be marking up a bill of their own in the next few weeks. House leadership has called for a six-year transportation bill costing $230 billion.

One way to possibly pay for the funding shortfall, according to House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, is to clear the way for more domestic energy production and use the money for infrastructure.

The House proposal currently resides in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

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