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Biggest infrastructure spending bill in history heads to president’s desk

Nov. 6, 2021
Along with fixing roads and bridges, the $1.2 trillion package focuses on increased safety systems for commercial vehicles, recruiting a new, more diverse driver pool into trucking, and studies of the industry.

A bipartisan vote in the House late Friday passed the largest infrastructure spending bill in history, securing a $1.2 trillion package to improve U.S. highways, bridges, and ports that had failed to get much legislative attention this century.

Months after a bipartisan group of U.S. senators hammered details on the bill and passed it over the summer, the House needed some Republican votes to get the measure to President Biden’s desk. Democrats had hoped to pass the infrastructure bill along with a separate $2 trillion proposal aimed at health care, climate, immigration, and tax laws. But that second bill was not finalized by late Friday—as various factions of congressional Democrats continue to debate its details.

A bipartisan group of Democrats and 13 Republicans came together to vote for the hard infrastructure bill, which passed just before midnight on Nov. 5, handing the president a landmark piece of legislation that has a lot to say about the trucking and commercial transportation industry. The 2,700-page bill focuses on increased safety systems for commercial vehicles, recruiting a new, more diverse driver pool into trucking, and lots of money to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

About half of the $1.2 trillion bill includes new spending, representing the most significant infrastructure investment in U.S. history. The money approved by Congress would fix roads and bridges ($110 billion), build out a nationwide electric vehicle charging infrastructure ($7.5 billion), improve ports and waterways ($16 billion), fund public transit ($49 billion), boost freight and passenger rail ($66 billion), improve airports ($25 billion), and boost broadband internet infrastructure ($65 billion). 

“Roads and bridges are not political—we all drive on them,” Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, said after the bill’s passage on Friday night. “A majority in the House realized this today and did what’s right for the country, not themselves. From farmers to truckers, the millions of hard-working people who make this country great won today. Those lawmakers who put their constituents before themselves to help seal this achievement have cemented a lasting legacy that the American people will now see, feel, and use for many decades to come.”

The trucking industry has been pushing for more infrastructure spending for years—something the three previous presidents of the 21st century were unable to deliver. With more than $550 billion of the bill marked for hard infrastructure spending, the package headed to Biden’s desk represents the most significant federal spending package on roads and bridges in generations.

That spending could be good news for the trucking industry, which employs more than 8 million Americans and moves more than 70% of the country’s freight along its roads. More than 3.5 million truck drivers move that freight along the nation’s crumbling infrastructure every day. “Of the 617,000 bridges across the U.S., nearly half of those are 50 years old,” Spear said in September as the industry waited for the House to act on the measure. “And 46,000 of them are structurally deficient. Of our 4 million miles of public roads, nearly half are in poor or mediocre condition. This is embarrassing—and it’s completely unacceptable.”

While the bill includes studies and pilot programs aimed at the trucking industry, fixing roads and bridges might be the most significant benefit for the industry, according to David Heller, VP of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association. “That’s the one thing we desperately need,” he told FleetOwner while the bill was being debated this summer. “We need a fix to our infrastructure—our physical infrastructure such as roads and bridges, which is the traditional definition of infrastructure.” 

There is more for trucking in the 2,700-page bill: a mandate for automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems on commercial vehicles, trailer and truck underride guard studies, driver workforce outreach programs, promoting women to work in the trucking industry, a study of truck leasing, and a pilot program to allow younger drivers to operate across state lines, among other items. (Read more details here.)

“After countless hearings and meetings on Capitol Hill, ATA members will finally see the fruits of their labor—a 38% increase in road and bridge funding, and an infusion of highly-trained, younger talent into our workforce,” ATA’s Spear said Friday. 

About the Author

Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017. With a passion for technology and how it's changing the world of transportation and trucking, he covers how the rise in AI and automation are changing the trucking industry and resetting supply chains and the alternative energy systems that will power fleets in the coming years. Fisher also covers the economy, public policy, and government regulations for FleetOwner and its sister publications.

Along with various video endeavors, Fisher oversees the annual FleetOwner 500 Private Fleets of the Year awards and the two FleetOwner 500 lists that each year rank the largest for-hire and private fleets in the U.S.

Previously, he was an award-winning editor and director for a chain of newspapers and news and sports websites in Connecticut and New York. He is currently based in Maryland. 

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