As the oft-delayed but now suddenly fast-moving highway bill leaves committee today for full consideration and a possible vote by both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, reaction to the 27-month funding measure is decidedly mixed, with trucking groups among others of two minds concerning the measure.
“This legislation, while not all we could have hoped for as an industry and as users of the highway system, makes tremendous strides in the safety arena and puts down a marker for future improvements to our nation’s freight infrastructure,” said Gov. Bill Graves, president & CEO of the American Trucking Assns. (ATA).
Graves praised several of the trucking-specific particulars in the bill, including: a requirement that commercial trucks use electronic logging devices (ELDs) to record drivers’ compliance with hours of service (HOS) data: the creation of a clearinghouse to track drug and alcohol test results; a study of crashworthiness standards for large trucks; the establishment of standards for systems to provide employers with timely notifications of drivers’ moving violations; and mandatory testing of new carriers entering the industry to verify their knowledge of safety requirements.
However, the requirement to use ELDs – also known as electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) – in the bill drew fire from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA).
“The EOBR proposal doesn't just have a few warts, it’s riddled with tumors, rendering it totally ineffective at improving safety,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA’s executive vice president in a statement. He pointed out that a regulatory version of such a mandate was struck down by the federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) failed to consider how such technology could lead to the “harassment” of truck drivers.
“Noted in that ruling was the fact that no research has shown how such a mandate would do anything to improve highway safety,” Spencer added. “There is no proof that EOBRs being used for HOS compliance will improve highway safety.”
ATA’s Graves expressed disappointment that the bill does not allow for weight increases so tractor-trailers can carry more freight – a “truck productivity” issue former iterations of the highway bill included. Instead, the current bill now working its way towards a vote tables such weight increases for three years while another study on the matter is conducted.
“While there is much to like about this bill, ATA is extremely disappointed that Congress has once again kicked the can down the road with respect to truck productivity,” Graves said. “We fully expect this latest study to confirm what numerous other studies have already told us: modest increases in truck size and weight limits have a net positive effect on highway safety and maintenance.”
Other transportation groups, however, are condemning the current bill as too much of a “stopgap” measure and don’t plan to support its passage.
“America needs a transportation bill – that much is a given. But we need that bill to be representative of the needs of our country. [But] this bill does not improve upon existing law and does not provide necessary accountability for taxpayer dollars,” said Geoffrey Anderson, president and CEO of Smart Growth America, which seeks far more infrastructure investment monies for roadways, public transit systems, and freight networks than what’s included in the current bill.
“The conference report is a disappointment,” Anderson said. “It is a step backwards in how we take care of and repair our roads and bridges, and it bypasses the kinds of innovative transportation solutions that we should expect out of a new transportation reauthorization. As written, we cannot support the transportation reauthorization before Congress. The country needs comprehensive transportation reform, not a stopgap measure [and] this bill falls well short of expectations.”
Nonetheless, ATA spokesman Sean McNally told FleetOwner that the highway bill now heading for Congressional consideration presents “a good starting point” in terms of reinvigorating America’s transportation infrastructure as well as its guiding policies.
“It’s important to remember that this is not a ‘traditional’ bill in that it only lasts for 27 months,” he explained. “So what it’s really doing is laying the groundwork for a longer term, more robustly constructed plan in the near future. Obviously, out transportation system needs are still way ahead of what we’re spending but, right now, this is probably the best that can be done considering the current political conditions.”