Highway and energy bills await signing

Highway and energy bills await signing

Two major pieces of legislation for trucking-- the massive highway bill valued at $286 billion and the energy bill—were approved by Congress and sent to President Bush, who has indicated that he will sign both into law

Two major pieces of legislation for trucking-- the massive highway bill valued at $286 billion and the energy bill—were approved by Congress and sent to President Bush, who has indicated that he will sign both into law.

In the highway bill, 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.

“We remain concerned that Congress’ inaction on hours of service will negatively impact overall highway safety and force the revision of a rule that took eight years to write and is successfully serving its intended people,” said American Trucking Assns. president & CEO Bill Graves.

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 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.

“If tolls could be collected on new lanes only, then that’s no problem,” said Darrin Roth, ATA director of highway operations. “If the outcome is that tolls could be levied on existing lanes, that is a concern.”

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

    The energy bill, which is worth $14.5 billion in tax breaks, contains a $1-billion program for grants to install emissions-reduction equipment in diesel trucks.

    Under the Diesel Truck Retrofit and Fleet Modernization Program (Sec. 742), grants will be awarded by state and local governments to allocate funds “with preference to ports and other major hauling operations.”

    Trucks eligible for a retrofit would have to be manufactured in model year 1998 or before; would have to use ultra-low sulfur diesel; and would have to be used to transport cargo goods, with preference toward port operators and large carriers. Grant recipients would be responsible for paying at least half the cost of retrofit equipment and labor costs.

    The retrofit program has earmarked $20 million for fiscal year 2006, $35 million for 2007 and $45 million for 2008.

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