President George W. Bush today signed the $286.4-billion highway bill. Although not all provisions of the highway bill are clear victories for trucking, it does spell relief after exhaustive lobbying efforts through 11 extensions.

The absence of a provision to codify the hours-of-service rules into law was perhaps the biggest defeat for trucking interests. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had also supported the measure.

However, the bill includes language to clarify the agricultural exemption to HOS regulations. The bill makes the exemption permanent, provides standard definitions of agricultural commodities and farm supplies to be used by commercial transporters of agricultural commodities during the planting and harvesting season in each state.

A provision requiring that customers pay carriers a mandatory fuel surcharge that varies with diesel prices did not make it into the highway bill. This issue had divided trucking interests, as the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) lobbied against the measure, stating that it would have increased consumer costs for everything shipped by truck while the Truckload Carriers Assn. and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. tried to insert their own surcharge-related language into the final bill.

Trucking interests had lobbied hard against any new tolling of existing Interstate lanes, and the language of the bill doesn’t clearly indicate any additional allowance of such tolls.

The Interstate System Construction Toll Pilot Program (1604 c) permits new tolling along three corridors of the Interstate system to fund the construction of new Interstate highways. ATA noted that the existing language is unclear as to whether existing Interstate lanes are eligible for tolling under this program.

The Express Lanes Demonstration Program within the tolling provision says new tolling stations are eligible only on new Interstate lanes.

ATA noted other key provisions in the highway bill:

  • new funding for traffic enforcement focused on motorists operating around large trucks
  • roadability provision that shifts the responsibility for ensuring safe intermodal containers from motor carriers to equipment owners
  • Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will notify carriers if hazardous material drivers fail to meet security criteria, as well as conduct a rulemaking that eliminates duplicative federal background checks
  • Canadian and Mexican hazmat drivers will be required to undergo a similar background check as conducted on U.S. hazmat drivers
  • $5 million earmarked for truck driver training