The fully fleshed-out surface transportation reauthorization proposal by the Obama Administration is drawing cheers and jeers from many different groups, with trucking generally leery of the overall bill.
The cumbersomely-named Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America Act or more simply the Grow America Act issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT) yesterday is a $302 billion, four-year transportation reauthorization proposal that runs to 350 pages in length and adds in the details to President Obama’s broader transportation plan outline announced back in February.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) came out strongly against the administration’s proposal, especially as it moves away from what Bill Graves, the trade group’s president and CEO, called a “user fee funded” transportation system.
“President Obama has talked more about the need to address our critical infrastructure deficit than any president in the past 20 years,” Graves said in a statement. “While the President’s plan supports a growing program, we cannot help but be very disappointed in much of the plan his administration has put forward.
He added that ATA has real questions about the viability of the administration’s plan to use one-time proceeds – estimated to total $150 billion – from what Graves described as “an unspecified and unlikely-to-pass” corporate tax reform idea, along with inefficient highway tolling or private capital financing.
“The focus must be on real, long-term funding answers rather than repeatedly looking for the proverbial ‘nickels in the couch cushions,” he pointed out.
Terry O’Sullivan, general president the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), echoed that concern, though his organization is overall very support of the DOT’s reauthorization proposal.
“DOT’s bill certainly helps advance the discussion about how to address our nation’s transportation infrastructure crisis,” he said in a statement. “While the corporate repatriation proposal merits serious consideration, the gas tax remains the most tested and logical way of meeting our critical investment needs.”
ATA Executive VP Dave Osiecki, however, criticized the bill’s effort to use highway trust fund (HTF) monies on non-roadway related projects, such as $5 billion for high-speed rail initiatives.
“It is clear that this administration is aiming to hijack the HTF and convert it into a fund to finance a myriad of projects to benefit interests that do not pay user fees into the fund,” he said.
“While trucks move nearly 70% of all U.S. freight, this proposal uses the words ‘truck,’ ‘trailer’ or ‘motor carrier’ just 91 times, while referencing ‘train’ or ‘rail’ a remarkable 518 times,” Osiecki emphasized. “Even more disheartening, the only reference to trucking in the administration’s announcement is a proposal by the DOT to impose a one-size-fits-all compensation model on an incredibly diverse industry – an extraordinarily misguided proposal for a department that claims to be data-driven.”
His “one-size-fits-all” statement refers to a new compensation addendum within the DOT’s proposal that would require both property (read as “freight”) and passenger motor carriers to compensate drivers under certain circumstances for on-duty/not driving periods at no less than the Federal minimum wage.
[More on that and other motor carrier-specific details within the administration’s proposal can be found in this related story by Contributing Editor Avery Vise here.]
However, Todd Spencer, executive VP for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), welcomed the Obama administration’s effort to address compensation.
“We commend the administrations inclusion of provisions to address the issue of truck driver compensation and detention time,” he said in a statement.
"Congress should follow through with the Administration's recognition of the connection between highway safety and driver pay by making sure that all truck drivers are compensated for all of their on-duty time,” added OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston.
Yet the group does not support the administration’s effort to lift the ban on establishing tolling systems on existing highways, outlined in the bill’s sectional analysis (which is lengthy, topping out at 101 pages).
“The proposal would open the door to a localized interstate system by allowing states to apply tolls to existing toll-free roads and would also allow collected funds to be used for transportation costs other than highways and bridges, such as mass transit,” noted OOIDA’s Spencer.
"Our interstate highways are the foundation of trucking and our nation's interconnected modern economy," he said. "Truckers in states with 'grandfathered' tolling authorities already know the cost of tolls to their business and personal incomes, as well as to an efficient system of goods movement."
"A priority should be to hold fast to today's restrictions on tolling and the need to maximize the direction of the dollars paid by truckers and highway users into roads and bridges,” added OOIDA’s Johnston.
The Alliance for Toll Free Interstates (ATFI) is obviously strongly opposed to the administration’s proposal to lift the tolling ban.
“Tolling has proven to be an inefficient mechanism for collecting transportation revenue, consuming up to 20% of revenue generated. Furthermore, those paying the toll may not even see that road improved because the President’s plan would allow toll revenue to go to other projects in that state,” said Miles Morin, spokesman for ATFI.
“The option for states to place tolls on existing interstate capacity has existed for 23 years and not a single state has used tolls in this way – not just because the idea is unpopular, but because it’s bad policy. Tolling existing interstates is inefficient, causes traffic diversion, and increases supply chain costs that hurt businesses and consumers,” he added. “Transportation infrastructure needs improvements, but of all the ways to fund them, tolling existing interstates is the worst.”
Not so, countered the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA).
“The Administration recognize the importance of giving states the maximum amount of flexibility to use all appropriate funding and financing tools to meet their 21st century funding challenges,” noted Patrick Jones, IBTTA’s executive director and CEO, in a statement.
“Currently, 35 states have leveraged the power of tolling as a proven and effective option to meet their infrastructure needs,” he added. “Tolling is a proven and effective tool to fund and finance more than 5,000 miles of roads, bridges and tunnels in 35 states. To ensure our roads and bridges remain safe and reliable requires a variety of solutions. All options should be on the table so that states can choose the funding methods that work best for them.”
Overall, though, Stephen Sandherr – CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA) –believes the administration’s transportation proposal should help “accelerate debate and action” on a new highway and transit bill before the current legislation expires at the end of September.
This new proposal sets a clear marker that any new legislation must span, at a minimum, four years and increase investment levels,” he stressed.
“The proposal also firmly establishes the need to identify a dedicated way to pay for needed repairs to our aging network of roads, bridges and transit systems,” Sandherr added. “While there is likely to be debate as more details become available about the administration’s preferred funding option, Congress and the president need to work together to develop a timely funding solution before the federal HTF hits a zero balance this summer.”