The House version of the six-year $284 billion highway bill (H.R.3) has been overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 417 to 9. The bill includes language that would grant states more authority to levy tolls for repairs to existing Interstate highways.

An amendment sponsored by Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-MN) to prevent tolls on existing Interstate lanes-- but which would have allowed tolls on new projects-- was defeated. That was a significant setback for the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), as it had rallied its constituents to support the measure.

However, trucking lobbying groups are expected to take the fight against tolls on existing Interstate highways to the Senate. The Senate is currently drafting its own highway bill.

“We have sound arguments and we will advance them,” said Michael Riley, president of the Motor Transport Assn. of Connecticut. “When you have the DOTs making this sound like this is the only way for them to continue on, it’s tough. But this is a matter of what’s right and fair— this is neither.”

The House bill contains a provision that would grant states the authority to collect tolls on a highway, bridge, or tunnel on existing Interstates for improvements or repairs. This would be allowed by the Dept of Transportation (DOT) if a state provides a “reasonable” analysis of financing and reconstruction for the Interstate project in question, and if that corridor is congested or has fallen behind in maintenance and expansion enough to warrant tolls.

The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the highway bill in the coming months. Once the Senate version is approved, transportation committees from both the House and Senate will negotiate to produce a final bill that can be passed into law.

Another amendment to the House bill, introduced by Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS), was passed that affects an existing exemption from the hours-of-service (HOS) rules as they apply to drivers hauling agricultural commodities and farm supplies within a 100-mi. radius from the commodity or distribution point. This amendment does two things:

  1. makes a technical correction to the definition of “agricultural commodity” to mean “any agricultural commodity, food, feed, fiber, or livestock.”
  2. protects the agricultural HOS exemption by federal law, preventing the Secretary of Transportation from rolling back or revoking the HOS exemption approved by Congress
With the exception of these changes, the agricultural exemption remains the same. It is seasonal, applying only during the designated planting and harvesting season throughout the year as determined by each state. An HOS amendment initiated by Rep. John Boozman (R-AR) that would have allowed truckers to break up on-duty periods with up to two hours of off-duty time was withdrawn. See HOS highway bill amendment withdrawn.