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March 14, 2014 11:00 AM, EDT

ATA Forms Special Committee to Study Road-Fund Options

By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the March 17 print edition of Transport Topics.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A specially formed committee of carrier executives will meet in Dallas this month to discuss ways to raise funds to pay for the next highway bill other than through a fuel-tax increase, American Trucking Associations Chairman Philip Byrd Sr. said.

“We’ve assembled a committee of high-ranking officials in our industry to look at this highway-funding problem that we have,” Byrd told executives at the Technology & Maintenance Council annual meeting here March 11.

Byrd’s announcement comes a few weeks after U.S. House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said he opposes an increase in federal fuel taxes, which fund highways and help to subsidize public transit. Shuster’s committee is set to write a new transportation funding bill this year. The current law expires Sept. 30.

“Chairman Shuster says that he’s not in favor of passing a federal motor fuel tax increase at this time,” Byrd said in an interview with Transport Topics after his speech. “So we have to come together, get the brightest minds in the industry together on some options.”

The fuel tax generates about $38 billion annually, which has not covered transportation spending for years. So Congress has been making transfers from a general fund to the highway fund.

Former ATA Chairman Dan England will head the group. He said it will include eight to a dozen executives from large and small carriers.

England said plans are to report the committee’s recommendations to ATA’s executive committee during the federation’s leadership meeting in May.

He said it’s “unlikely” that Congress will pass a fuel-tax increase — the approach ATA favors to fund the highway bill.

“We need to look at alternatives and speak with one voice because of the importance of this and the timing of it since the highway bill is up for consideration right now,” England said.

ATA staff has crafted more than 20 potential funding options with likelihood of passage by Congress.

Also during his presentation, Byrd, CEO of Bulldog Hiway Express in Charleston, S.C., urged TMC members to help improve trucking’s image by getting out the word of the industry’s “essentiality.”

“I would submit to you that, by and large, Americans don’t understand what we do,” Byrd said. “And whose fault is that? We should take the blame.”

In fact, most Americans think the trucking business is very simple, he said.

“A lot of people think all you need is a truck, a driver and a road,” Byrd said, “but this is an intense, complex, complicated business.”

He also said that as motor carriers continue to advance technology in the industry, it will be difficult to find skilled technicians.

“As I understand it, over the next 10 years or so, you’re going to need some 200,000 technicians just to continue to service the fleets as they are today,” Byrd said. “That’s a daunting task.”