The trucking industry would see improvements to highway safety and needed investment in road infrastructure under a transportation bill passed by the U.S. Senate on March 14.
The $109 billion measure includes $4 billion in funding over two years for highway projects that would specifically benefit truckers. It would ban tolls on existing interstates, which would keep down the costs of trucking jobs. The bill would also hurry along the approval process for roadwork projects.
The American Trucking Associations’ president and chief executive officer, Bill Graves, said the bill takes important steps to increase safety for truckers.
New companies and drivers would have to meet higher standards before being allowed to take on trucking jobs, and current truck drivers would have to keep electronic records of their journeys and jobs.
The federal government would build a system to inform companies when their drivers are cited for traffic infractions, and the results of alcohol and drug tests by truck drivers would be kept in a national clearinghouse.
The bill would also start the process of creating crash worthiness standards for commercial trucks, which could significantly impact existing large and small trucking companies.
Graves praised the Senate for passing the bill. He urged the House to quickly pass its own bill and lawmakers to create a single compromise bill to the send to the desk of President Barack Obama. His signature would make the bill law.
That bill, Graves said, would ideally contain provisions about truck safety left out of the Senate legislation. For example, he said he wished the legislation included a safety initiative to improve truck productivity.
The newest transportation funding bill could set the stage for reform of the trucking industry and the nation’s transit system, Graves said. Reform should emphasize safety measures proven to be effective, as well as direct money to transit projects that bring the most cost benefit.
The Senate’s transportation bill contains an amendment banning private highway from being counted in the calculation that determines how federal highway funds are distributed among states.
One amendment, proposed by Sen. Jim DeMint, a Republican from South Carolina, would have done away the current federal highway funding scheme entirely. The Senate voted down the amendment 67-30.
DeMint contended that reform is necessary to make federal highway funding fair. Drivers in most states pay more in the federal gas tax than their home states get from the funding source, he said. Changing that system would also give states more say in how transportation money is put to work in their jurisdiction.
DeMint said his amendment also would have reduced the price that states pay for work on projects partially funded by the federal government. States would have been exempted from following a law dating from the Great Depression that sets workers’ wages at the federal level. Such a measure would have saved states $11 billion in 2011, DeMint said.
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