Senate passes $1 trillion infrastructure bill with AEB, under-21 apprenticeship pilot

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Updated Aug 14, 2021

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed its version of a $1 trillion infrastructure funding package that provides $550 billion in new monies. The passage of the bipartisan legislation, which was approved in a 69-30 vote Tuesday, follows weeks of debate in the Senate.

The bill will now move to the U.S. House, where it could face some challenges from more progressive Democrats in the chamber. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) reportedly railed against the Senate bill recently and has also pressed for a conference committee to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Additionally, the House is in recess until Sept. 20, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has previously said she will not take up the infrastructure bill until the Senate also passes a proposed $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation plan to address so-called human infrastructure from climate change initiatives to child care and more.

Should the House also pass the infrastructure bill following its recess, FTR Chairman and CEO Eric Starks said he doesn’t expect any short-term benefit from spending on infrastructure, noting that most of the impact won’t be felt until mid- and late-2022.

“It has very limited impact in the short term on jobs,” he said, “but in a lot of cases – anything that has a construction component – you’re having a hard time finding those workers anyway.”

[Related: Trucking groups at odds over House infrastructure bill]

The Senate bill includes several provisions related to trucking, including a mandate for automatic emergency braking systems on trucks, a requirement for an under-21 truck driver apprenticeship pilot program and more.

It does not, however, include an increase to carriers’ liability insurance minimum requirements from $750,000 to $2 million, which is in the infrastructure bill previously passed by the House.

The Senate bill also does not include funding specifically earmarked for expanding truck parking capacity, despite a proposed amendment from Sens. Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, that was not accepted. That amendment would have allocated a portion of the bill’s spending to truck parking.

Despite the parking amendment's lack of inclusion in the bill, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association President and CEO Todd Spencer said he would continue working with the Senators to "identify other opportunities to address the lack of parking." Spencer added that it's "extremely frustrating to see lawmakers continue to treat truckers as an afterthought." 

"Years of inaction on addressing the lack of truck parking has created a nationwide crisis that threatens the safety of millions of professional drivers, and increasingly the motoring public," Spencer said. "By failing to include the Kelly/Lummis amendment, the Senate has missed yet another opportunity to enact meaningful policies that would immediately improve drivers’ lives and highway safety." 

Spencer also noted OOIDA is supportive of the bill in that it "does not increase minimum insurance levels and will invest hundreds of billions for roads, highways, and bridges."

The American Trucking Associations lauded the passage of the bill. 

“Passage of this bipartisan infrastructure bill is a groundbreaking step toward revitalizing America’s decaying roads and bridges, supporting our supply chain and economy with the foundation they need to grow, compete globally and lead the world," said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. "The bill also contains significant measures to grow and strengthen trucking’s essential workforce."

The International Food Distributors Association, which represents foodservice haulers, commended the passage of the bill, specifically for its inclusion of the DRIVE-Safe Act apprenticeship program pilot.

“Investing in America’s future is critical for the foodservice distribution industry, and modernizing our infrastructure for 21st-century commerce would help the supply chain more efficiently move goods and materials to America’s foodservice operators and restaurants across the country,” said Mark S. Allen, President and CEO of IFDA. “We are particularly pleased to see the inclusion of the DRIVE-Safe Act pilot program."

[Related: Recruiting or retention? Why fleets small and large navigate toward guaranteed pay]

Other notable trucking-related provisions contained in the Senate bill are a measure to require a study of truck and bus crash causation, and:

[Related: Insurance, big-ticket maintenance ... What's your biggest business challenge?]