ATA’s Spear makes the case for needed infrastructure improvements at Senate hearing

With true signs of momentum for a new, and badly needed, federal transportation infrastructure bill seemingly forever stuck in neutral, it is refreshing to see the nation’s top trucking lobbyist, American Trucking Associations (ATA) President and CEO Chris Spear continue to ring the bell (loudly) for federal action to get the wheels on new legislation moving.

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With true signs of momentum for a new, and badly needed, federal transportation infrastructure bill seemingly forever stuck in neutral, it is refreshing to see the nation’s top trucking lobbyist, continue to ring the bell (loudly) for federal action to get the wheels on new legislation moving.

at a hearing entitled “America’s Infrastructure Needs: Keeping Pace with a Growing Economy,” Spear was direct in explaining the myriad woes our nation’s surface transportation continues to be up against, while also offering sensible approaches and solutions to help fix these longstanding issues, which are up against significant financial and political pressures.

“Just last week, chunks of falling concrete struck cars traveling under bridges in California and Massachusetts,” Spear said. “We are no longer facing a future highway maintenance crisis – we’re living it – and every day we fail to invest, we’re putting more lives at risk. The nation’s crumbling and failing infrastructure is taking a tremendous toll on Americans’ time and their pocketbooks, and has impacted the trucking industry in a significant way.”

Addressing trucking, Spear said that the sector now loses $74.5 billion sitting in gridlock, which equates to 1.2 billion lost hours or 425,000 truck drivers sitting idle for an entire year, calling these figures the regressive costs of doing nothing that are reflected in the prices paid by all Americans. 

“These costs to consumers and economy are measurable… and they can and should serve as offsets for new spending on our nation’s infrastructure,” he said.

These financial and productivity statistics cannot, in any way, by overlooked or understated. Why? Well, for one thing, they each represent deficiencies on a whole host of levels. Case in point: the most recent grade given by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) for transportation infrastructure in its 2017 report was a D+, not exactly Dean’s List material, to be sure.   

That set the backdrop for an excellent proposal, cited by Spear, called the Build America Fund, which, at a top level, is a 20 cent per gallon fee at the terminal fuel rack phased in over four years that would generate billions worth of new revenue towards infrastructure investment.

What’s more, Spear noted that the fee will be indexed to both inflation and improvements in fuel efficiency, with a 5% annual cap, adding that ATA estimates that the fee will generate nearly $340 billion over the first 10 years and cost the average passenger vehicle driver just over $100 per year once fully phased in.

Under the BAF proposal, Spear explained that the first tranche of revenue generated by the new fee would be transferred to the Highway Trust Fund and that using a FY 2020 baseline, existing HTF programs would be funded at authorized levels sufficient to prevent a reduction in distributed funds, plus an annual increase to account for inflation.

The Build America Fund was not the only proposed funding mechanism highlighted by Spear.

He also called for support for a new fee on hybrid and electric vehicles, which underpay for their use of the highway system or do not contribute at all, noting that ATA looks forward to working with Congress to identify the best approach to achieve that goal.

Another initiative supported by ATA calls for the repeal of the federal excise tax on trucking equipment, provided the revenue it generates for the HTF is replaced, saying that this antiquated 12% sales tax, which was adopted during World War I, is a barrier to investment in the cleanest, safest trucks available on the market.

And he also talked about a new National Priorities Program (NPP) that would be funded with an annual allocation of $5 billion, plus an annual increase equivalent to the percentage increase in BAF revenue.

As for how NPP would work, he said that each year, the U.S. Department of Transportation would determine the location of the costliest highway bottlenecks in the nation and publish the list, with criteria possibly including the number of vehicles; amount of freight; congestion levels; reliability; safety; or, air quality impacts. States with identified bottlenecks could apply to USDOT for project funding grants on a competitive basis and locations could appear on the list over multiple years until they are addressed.

As you can tell, Spear and the ATA are well-prepared and –equipped when it comes to ways of addressing, and improving, this years-long predicament of crumbling and underfunded infrastructure investment. What happens going forward is far from certain, but one thing for sure is that the road ahead to a solution is long and will get even longer should the White House and Congress continue to, wait for it, kick the can down the road. As much as I dislike that cliché, it remains painfully accurate and timely all these years later. I am pretty sure we all wish that were not the case.

Newsroom Notes commends the ATA and its executive leader Chris Spear for pulling no punches when it comes to the current state of transportation infrastructure. Let’s hope Washington is listening.

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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