Special Coverage



ATA Honors DeFazio, Who Applauds Industry

ATA's Bill Sullivan and Rep. Peter DeFazio
ATA's Bill Sullivan (left) presents Rep. Peter DeFazio with the ATA Highway Diamond Award in recognition of his role securing national infrastructure improvement funds. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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SAN DIEGO — The outgoing leader of the U.S. House Transportation Committee thanked the trucking industry for decades of collaboration during his time as a lawmaker, and was presented with an award recognizing his work on behalf of the transportation sector.

“All of you and all your employees — without you the country would grind to a halt,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said during an Oct. 24 luncheon address at American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition. “I’ve been with you every step of the way to move America forward for 36 years working on the committee,” he said. “We didn’t agree every time, but we worked a lot of stuff out over those years.”

DeFazio praised the trucking industry for its perseverance during the pandemic, and for supporting communities and their own people as regions locked down and businesses shuttered.

“Many industries were collapsing and their workers and the economy were hanging in the balance,” DeFazio said. “I worked a lot, and very hard, on the early relief packages. We saved aviation, transit systems, motor coaches — some not as much as I tried. I supported a number of applications from trucking companies for the lending programs that were created in the COVID Relief Package.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)

“We didn’t get all the policies we wanted. But we got quite a few that are very important," DeFazio said. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

Amid these efforts, DeFazio noted that supply chains were tested, as freight shipment patterns and the economy overall felt the effects. The freight industry struggled to meet record demand for consumer goods.

“My grocery store shelves were never empty,” DeFazio said. “Your drivers were subjected to very difficult conditions, but they kept the freight moving. I know it was an incredible challenge, and you met that challenge and you kept the country going.”

Going forward, the chairman noted that the trucking industry faces challenges such as traffic bottlenecks, congestion, rising fuel prices, delays at shipper and receiver facilities, deteriorating infrastructure and driver turnover.

“I’ve listened to the challenges of your unique, diverse and complex industry, always with an ear on how to make things better,” DeFazio said. “Every aspect of American life counts on your companies and drivers continuing to serve in tough conditions. I want to express my respect, admiration, appreciation for all what you do.”

DeFazio stressed that the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is bringing some relief to some of the industry’s challenges, providing billions of dollars for highways and bridges.

“We did it with tremendous support from this organization at the grassroots level all around the country,” DeFazio said of ATA. “We didn’t get all the policies we wanted. But we got quite a few that are very important.”

That includes repairs earmarked for 42,000 bridges that need substantial repairs and replacement, along with repairs on 40% of the national highway system that has deteriorated where more that just resurfacing is needed.

“It’s the largest expenditure ever that’s been put into infrastructure in the history of the United States,” DeFazio said.

He warned, however, that new challenges are looming. He pointed to the need for a national infrastructure grid for charging electric trucks and cars, as well as the need to find new funding mechanisms for vehicles that do not burn fuel.

“In the next surface transportation bill we may move towards vehicle miles traveled for both individual vehicles, and by then there will probably be a fair amount of penetration by EVs for individuals, and trucks,” DeFazio said, stressing that he wants to ensure a stable and long-term source of road funding with collection of fuel taxes expected to decline. Still, he stressed his opposition to excessive tolling on roadways.

Before his speech, DeFazio was honored with the ATA Highway Diamond Award in recognition of his role securing national infrastructure improvement funds.

“I know you need more than bridges and good conditions to operate,” DeFazio said. “Challenges associated with being a truck driver are not new. But recent changes have brought these challenges to the forefront.”

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