Track and Quotes

Show Shipment Information - Track and Trace PackageTrack and Trace
Get a Shipping Rate QuoteRate Quote

Congress Adds Road Funds
Monday, 21 December 2009 00:00
At Least $40 Bln. Approved for Highways in 2010

In a flurry of activity before its holiday recess, Congress approved more than $40 billion in new highway spending for 2010, moved toward adding another $27 billion, approved a truck-weight exemption and quietly dropped a prohibition on a federal pilot program allowing trucking across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The House also approved two separate extensions of the current federal highway program to ensure that the Department of Transportation can continue supporting state transportation efforts.

The first round of new highway spending was part of a $447 billion fiscal 2010 funding package for DOT and other federal agencies.

The spending bill allows Maine and Vermont to conduct one-year pilot programs to test increased truck weights, and it omits a provision preventing DOT from spending money on a Mexican trucking pilot program that was in the previous appropriation.

The weight language would allow trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds to use interstate highways in Maine and Vermont. New Hampshire already has a similar exemption. The provision, originally inserted by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), was expanded to include Vermont by a House-Senate conference committee.

"A uniform truck weight limit would keep trucks on the interstates where they belong, rather than on the rural roads that pass through our small towns and villages," Collins said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the weight exemption "will get these trucks out of our downtowns in the short term. In the longer term, it will help us determine, with real-world experience, whether it is safer and better for both our infrastructure and the environment to have these trucks use the interstate system."

The true value of the exemption was "less about a one-year pilot and much more about states‘ needing to have the flexibility to meet their own economic needs, and under a freeze, it literally takes an act of Congress to do that," Tim Lynch, a senior vice president of American Trucking Associations, told Transport Topics.

ATA has said it would like states to have the ability to set their own truck size and weight limits.

John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, which opposes increased size and weight limits, said that residents of the two states deserve more than being human guinea pigs in this dangerous experiment.

The bill‘s omission of a provision to block DOT from spending money on a Mexican trucking pilot program was a departure from the previous annual spending measure, which withheld funds for DOT‘s test of cross-border trucking and effectively ended the program.

Rod Nofziger, director of government affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said that the prohibition was not necessary because there is no cross-border pilot program currently under way.

"That‘s the reason that provision was in there, and right now, we don‘t have a pilot program, so it really brings into question the need for such a provision," Nofziger said. "It has all to do with the fact that there‘s not an existing pilot program."

The bill does require DOT to report to Congress about the state of cross-border trucking. While the United States had committed to opening the border under the North American Free Trade Agreement, it has failed to follow through, citing safety concerns about Mexican trucks.

In retaliation, Mexico has slapped punitive tariffs on some U.S. goods and has filed legal actions seeking billions of dollars in damages.

After approving the omnibus spending bill, which President Obama is expected to sign, the House passed a measure funding the Department of Defense that included an extension of current highway legislation until Feb. 28 and a job-creation spending bill that extends the law to Sept. 30.

The jobs bill also included $27.5 billion in immediate spending on highway and bridge construction, which would be an addition to the stimulus legislation passed earlier this year.

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the jobs bill "doubles down on the highway and transit investments of the [stimulus program] and will immediately create and sustain jobs."

In addition to the new highway spending, the bill included a transfer of more than $20 billion into the Highway Trust Fund from the general treasury. The extension also allows the fund to receive more from the general fund, which Oberstar said would increase Trust Fund receipts by an estimated $500 million to $1 billion annually, in the near-term.

The Senate was expected to vote on the DOD bill after press time, but it was unlikely to consider the jobs legislation until sometime in 2010.

Transport Topics, 12/21/2009