Washington update: Panel discusses infrastructure, safety rules

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Panelists in the Washington update at the CCJ Spring Symposium included CCJ Senior Editor Kevin Jones (left), Caitlin Rayman of the Federal Highway Administration and Scopelitis law firm partner Tim Wiseman (right).Panelists in the Washington update at the CCJ Spring Symposium included CCJ Senior Editor Kevin Jones (left), Caitlin Rayman of the Federal Highway Administration and Scopelitis law firm partner Tim Wiseman (right).

Sixty-five percent of major roads are in poor condition, one in four bridges are not in good repair and the Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of money in August, Caitlin Rayman, with the Federal Highway Administration told attendees during a panel discussion at the CCJ Spring Symposium May 20 in Nashville, Tenn.

Fixing this situation would cost $18.5 billion annually through 2030, Rayman said and the current highway bill, MAP 21, will expire at the end of September. “Congress is discussing what to do about this, whether they can fully authorize, do a continuing resolution or a short-term bill,” she said. (On May 16, the Environment and Public Works committee sent its federal transportation package to the full Senate. The bill, S.2322, “The MAP-21 Reauthorization Act,” now awaits action by the Senate Finance committee.)

Earlier this month, the Obama Administration sent Congress its own $302 billion four-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal called the GROW America Act, which includes $199 billion for highways and road safety and is designed to prevent the Highway Trust Fund from going insolvent.

“We don’t know if this will pass,” Rayman said. “There are other proposals out there.” But the bottom line is “we can no longer just patch things up.”

Other initiatives include a $10 billion proposal to reform freight planning, finalizing a truck size and weight study – set to go to Congress by November – and evaluating comments from states, law enforcement, truck stops, fleets and almost 8,000 truckers about the nationwide truck parking situation.

Turning to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety, panelist Tim Wiseman, managing partner, Scopelitis, gave attendees an update on several upcoming initiatives, including:

Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. Wiseman called the clearinghouse a “big benefit for industry. It will help carriers know if an applicant has prior problems by requiring all carriers to provide reports on any positive drug or alcohol tests and refusals to test.” Carriers will be able to access the database after obtaining a driver’s consent. The comment period ends tomorrow.

Prohibition on coercion. This will enable FMCSA to go after shippers and brokers for violations of hours of service rules and assess civil penalties with fines up to $11,000 per violation. “This is a good initiative for the industry because now shippers and brokers have a stake in helping drivers perform within HOS regulations,” Wiseman said. Coercive carriers are also subject to civil penalties and downgraded safety ratings. Comment period ends in August.

Electronic logging device mandate. FMCSA recently extended the comment period to June 26 on this rule, which will require all truck drivers who currently must keep records of duty status to use an electronic logging device. Carriers will have two years from when the rule becomes final to get the devices. Wiseman urged carriers looking to add ELDs prior to the final rule to use caution when selecting manufacturers. “ELD manufacturers use a self-certification process,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of new products on the market that say they meet requirements when they really don’t.”vAfter the comment period ends, the agency will begin work on a final rule, which likely will be published later this year.

Compliance, Safety, Accountability. There are ongoing disputes about the program’s reliability and accuracy, Wiseman said; only about 35 percent of carriers have enough data to be scored under the system. Problems with CSA include disparate enforcement among states. For example, 25 percent of all CSA points in 2012 came from five counties in Texas, he said.