WASHINGTON D.C. The first and foremost priority for new Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood is to move the portion of the stimulus package directly under the Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) purview out into the economy as fast as possible.

Speaking before the board of the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) at a special meeting at the Russell Senate Office Building here, LaHood said his “immediate goal” is to get the $28 billion in highway infrastructure funding, $12 billion in transit system monies and $8 billion to develop a national “high speed rail” network into the hands of state governors and mayors as fast as possible.

“Our goal is to get that money out the door this spring, summer and fall,” LaHood said. “And you as truckers will be transporting a good part of the materials for all of that. The trucking industry is critical to the health of the economy.”

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WASHINGTON D.C. The first and foremost priority for new Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood is to move the portion of the stimulus package directly under the Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) purview out into the economy as fast as possible.

Speaking before the board of the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) at a special meeting at the Russell Senate Office Building here, LaHood said his “immediate goal” is to get the $28 billion in highway infrastructure funding, $12 billion in transit system monies and $8 billion to develop a national “high speed rail” network into the hands of state governors and mayors as fast as possible.

“Our goal is to get that money out the door this spring, summer and fall,” LaHood said. “And you as truckers will be transporting a good part of the materials for all of that. The trucking industry is critical to the health of the economy.”

Secondly, however, LaHood stressed that new ways must be found to sustain the required ongoing funding for the country’s transportation infrastructure, as fuel taxes simply aren’t generating enough revenue. “The Highway Trust Fund needed $8 billion last year to keep it going,” he explained. “The reality is that [fuel taxes] are a 20th century funding mechanism. We need to review our funding needs and come up with new, innovative ways to do things. Because the fundamental question is, how do we pay for it all? Look, we need to think outside the box, and that means everything is on the table.”

In terms of managing the DOT, LaHood noted that it will take time for the 100 or so names submitted to the White House as candidates for the many open positions within the agency to be vetted, a process that takes anywhere from two to four months, so he cautioned that it will take some time to get back up to speed on regulatory initiatives. That being said, LaHood pointed out that progress on several key pieces of trucking-related regulation continues forward.

First, the rule linking a truck driver’s medical certificate and CDL [commercial driver’s license] is officially on the books as of January 30, as are the rules tightening up requirements for new drivers, which went into effect Feb. 17. The intermodal chassis rule, long pushed for by the trucking industry, remains on schedule to be finalized on June 17 this year.

However, the rule governing the selected mandated use of electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) to digitally compile driver logbooks will remain under review as LaHood said his team gets up to speed on it. LaHood said he plans to push hard to establish a national drug and alcohol testing database. “We’re going to move on this, for there is no room for CDL drivers on the roads who fail drug and alcohol tests,” he said. “We expect to have a noticed of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on this later this year.”

Finally, LaHood urged the industry to do what it can, despite the hard economic times, to install more advanced safety technology on its vehicles. This includes systems such as lane departure warning, collision avoidance radar, and electronic stability control.

“There’s been a significant decrease in large truck crash fatalities over the last few years,” LaHood said. “This is good progress. But the truth is over 4,800 people still die every year because of those crashes. Our ongoing goal is to save lives and prevent or at least minimize the severity of vehicle crashes. I know in these economic times it’s hard to pay for these technologies, but all the data we have shows they pay off in the long run.”