ATA to work toward next reauthorization during 2007

Planning for the next reauthorization of highway programs has begun but will become a higher priority during 2007, American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said on Tuesday, Jan. 9. Although the current highway authorization was approved only in August 2005, it was a couple of years overdue, and the current authorization ends in 2009.

Because the legislative process is so long and lobbying must begin early, the trucking industry needs to develop a strategy in the coming months. “Much of the work in 2007 will be working toward a strong agenda,” Graves said in a conference call with transportation journalists.

During the conference call, Graves and top ATA officials outlined some of the challenges and opportunities facing the trucking industry during the coming year. Graves said the association’s activities will be focused on five major issues:

  • Recognition of the essentiality of the motor carrier industry. ATA wants to be sure that the next highway reauthorization bill reflects the importance of the trucking industry to commerce and the national economy.
  • Getting more drivers behind the wheel. “We have an aggressive campaign under way to spread the word on the industry,” Graves said. The focus is on encouraging people to consider careers in trucking.
  • Moving freight safely. Graves highlighted several initiatives ATA already supports, such as mandatory seat belts for truck drivers and limiting speed for trucks. In the coming months, ATA will look more at driver training and on security, including finalization of the transportation worker identification program.
  • Being environmentally responsible. The 2007 engines are a big step in that area, and ATA wants to help the nation further its energy self-sufficiency, Graves said. He added that ATA is working with the National Biodiesel Board to explore more opportunities in that arena.
  • Paying the industry’s fair share when it comes to infrastructure. The trucking industry understands that highway development in the coming years will cost more than the highway trust fund currently can support. More money is needed, and “there will be lots of discussion about what the appropriate way to do that is.” For now, ATA supports funding through the current mechanism of the fuel tax, but the next reauthorization may force the trucking industry to consider alternatives.
  • Tim Lynch, senior vice president of federal relations and strategic planning, added that there are three specific developments ATA is watching carefully and is preparing to become engaged in:

  • A federal appeals court soon will rule on the challenges to the hours-of-service regulations.
  • The infrastructure commission plans to complete its work this summer, and will recommend financing options for highway development.
  • In state capitals around the nation, notably Pennsylvania in the near future, governors and legislatures are looking at selling or leasing toll roads to private third parties. Lynch said ATA will be fighting those efforts in cases where the proceeds will not be going toward funding highway infrastructure.
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