Freight panel ‘kicks the can’ on funding decisions

A House panel that spent six months assessing the nation’s freight transportation needs has unanimously decided the U.S. should spend more, but made no specific recommendations as to where any funding increase should come from.CapitolBuilding

In a back-slapping “return to bipartisanship,” the Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation released its final report Tuesday at the Capitol, taking turns praising one another for delivering what was billed as an up-to-date, thorough analysis of the role freight transportation plays in the U.S. economy.

Instead, the 100-page report recasts much of the work done ahead of the expiration of the previous highway bill, SAFETEA-LU, including funding analyses by two different congressional commissions that were submitted more than five years ago.

Those earlier reports called specifically for a variety of transportation and trucking tax increases, tolling and a transition to vehicle-mile taxes to offset a chronic shortfall in the fuel tax-based Highway Trust Fund.

In its central recommendations, the panel shifts the burden of making the tough political calls to the Secretary of Transportation.

The current highway bill, MAP-21, expires in 11 months.

Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, called the report “the groundwork for developing, hopefully, consensus on the revenue sources we’re going to need.”

“We’re kicking the can, to some extent. A lot of this has to be decided in the bill we’re going to do next year,” said Nadler. “We want to get the administration involved in making some recommendations. The purpose of this panel was to bring the attention to where it has to be, to delineate the options and get the discussion started.”

As for passing the buck, “cabinet secretaries have a lot of resources they can bring to bear to bring some sort of consensus to the country,” he added.

Chairman John J. Duncan, Jr., R-Tenn., likewise suggested the panel “couldn’t do everything,” and called decisions on additional revenue “a sticking point” – but that he, too, welcomes input from the National Freight Advisory Committee, recently established under the DOT.

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers

“We couldn’t solve all or end all of the controversies in this one report,” Duncan said. “But we think we’ve made a significant contribution.”

In addition to the broad, central directives (available in the full report here), the panel included a few trucking-specific recommendations:

  • Ensure that states have the resources necessary to maintain and improve freight movement on Federal-aid Highways by addressing the looming shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund with sustainable revenue;
  • Encourage the Secretary of Transportation to complete the Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Limits Study as thoroughly and judiciously as possible;
  • Direct the Secretary of Transportation to determine whether the definition of the primary highway freight network is sufficient; and
  • Encourage states, localities, and the private sector to designate resources for commercial driver training to be made available to all organizations that provide such training.