ATA’s Lynch: Industry already planning for 2009 highway bill talks

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Speaking to the Bear, Stearns Global Transportation Conference in New York earlier this week, American Trucking Associations Senior Vice President Tim Lynch said the trucking industry is working to ensure that Congress allocates more money for freight infrastructure and to relieve congestion when it reauthorizes the next highway transportation funding bill in 2009.

“An aging infrastructure network stretched to its limits operates less efficiently,” Lynch said. “We are already beginning planning for the next reauthorization. We must ensure that more money is put toward infrastructure and easing congestion to make sure trucks can move on the highway. We must begin now thinking about how we will build and maintain our transportation system.”

Few issues in 2006 are likely to be bigger for trucking than fuel supply and costs, Lynch said. Namely, the industry faces significant challenges as it transitions to ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, designed to support a new generation of diesel emissions control equipment. While the industry supports ULSD, Lynch said trucking has a number of concerns about the new fuel, scheduled to hit the market this fall.

Chief among them is the risk for fuel supply disruptions due to the fact that ULSD can be contaminated as it moves through a complex system of pipelines and the distribution network. Localized shortages would create fuel price spikes, jeopardizing the industry’s ability to deliver freight efficiently, Lynch said. New engines, meanwhile, are expected to burn more fuel at a time when the industry is on pace to spend more than $100 billion on diesel. “We have to ensure that we don’t use more fuel to get the same output to move the same amount of freight,” Lynch said.

Lynch also detailed for investors how the industry is addressing the long-haul driver shortage at a time when freight volumes are growing. He also discussed trucking’s security concerns; ATA’s support for a coordinated, cost-effective process for screening transportation workers; and the current legal challenge to hours-of-service rules.