The National Shippers Strategic Transportation Council, an industry association representing shippers, on Thursday, June 21, sent a letter to all Highway Bill Conference Committee members encouraging them to promptly enact a bill that will fund infrastructure construction and maintenance. NASSTRAC represents manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and distributors that rely on efficient over-the-road freight transportation.
The current three-month highway bill extension, which is set to expire June 30, is the ninth since the September 2009 expiration of SAFETEA-LU, the most recent long-term transportation funding law. Rep. John Mica and Sen. Barbara Boxer on Thursday said the committee members have moved forward toward a bipartisan bicameral agreement and will continue to work with a goal of completing a package by next week.
Committee staff will work through the weekend converting that agreement into legislative language, while discussion turns to other portions of the bill, including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administraiton safety title, transit and the funding piece. House and Senate leaders have indicated that once all the transportation pieces have been resolved, leadership will step in to reconcile the coal ash and Keystone Pipeline provisions.
Once all the issues are resolved, staff will need to draft final language for review. Then the bill will need to move through both the House and Senate for votes. With only a few legislative days left, and most of the major issues still unresolved, completion by June 30 seems unlikely, meaning a 10th extension is likely going to be necessary in order to complete a bill.
The NASSTRAC letter said that without efficient trucking service that can accommodate projected future demand for high-quality freight transportation, shippers will be forced to devote increasing capital expenditures to inventories and warehousing for safety stock. The result will be less money to spend on investments, growth and jobs, and higher prices for consumers, as supply chain efficiency declines.
“Maintaining a strong and growing trucking industry is impossible if we continue to underfund our highway infrastructure,” said John Cutler, NASSTRAC’s legal counsel. “While Map-21 will not provide all the highway funding needed, it’s far better than inaction and will avoid further disruption of existing highway projects.” NASSTRAC joins several other industry associations in calling for highway funding based on no less than MAP-21 levels.
NASSTRAC also urged the conference committee to incorporate beneficial provisions from H.R. 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012, with particular support of provisions targeting motor carrier productivity. The provisions would permit states to allow longer and heavier trailers, consistent with safety and highway wear and tear, in order to accommodate increased demand without increasing the number of trucks on roadways.
“The resulting productivity gains are needed to offset governmental measures reducing productivity, such as changes in driver hours-of-service rules,” said Cutler. In addition, NASSTRAC supports streamlined procedures for permitting highway work, including building new highways and expanding old ones, and is against funding through higher tolls.