Special Coverage



ATA President Chris Spear Touts Infrastructure Law, Female Workforce Program

Chris Spear speaking at MCE 2022
ATA President Chris Spear gives his State of the Industry address at the Management Conference & Exhibition in San Diego. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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SAN DIEGO — American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear highlighted a string of victories the federation achieved in the past year during his annual state-of-the-industry address at the ATA Management Conference & Exhibition.

One prominent victory for the industry came from Rhode Island, where a federal judge in September struck down as unconstitutional a trucks-only tolling plan managed by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation known as “RhodeWorks.” ATA had challenged the tolling plan due to its exclusive targeting of motor carriers traveling through the state.

“We told the state’s elected leaders from the start that their crazy, truck-only tolling scam called ‘RhodeWorks’ was not only discriminatory, but unconstitutional,” Spear emphasized. “Yet, like a lot of elected officials these days, they didn’t listen.”

Bill Sullivan, 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)

In his ruling overturning the plan, District Judge William Smith wrote: “Because ‘RhodeWorks’ fails to fairly apportion its tolls among bridge users based on a fair approximation of their use of the bridges, [it] was enacted with a discriminatory purpose, and is discriminatory in effect, the statute’s tolling regime is unconstitutional under the dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.”

Enactment of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act also marked a top victory for the industry, the ATA leader noted. “The IIJA is not only a benefit to our roads and bridges, but also for our workforce,” Spear told the MCE audience. “Because of your support, it’s now federal law.”

The bipartisan nature of the IIJA’s passage, including the contributions of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), were recognized by Spear. The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, DeFazio was in the audience during Spear’s address and drew a round of applause from the crowd.

After more than three decades on Capitol Hill, DeFazio will retire after this session of Congress. A multiyear highway policy bill he crafted is the foundation for the IIJA. After lengthy bipartisan negotiations that DeFazio helped steer, President Joe Biden signed the IIJA into law in mid-November.

“Chairman DeFazio knows how to legislate,” said Spear. “His leadership and his willingness to listen and work with vested stakeholders like ATA resulted in the passage of a $1.2 trillion investment in America’s infrastructure.”

The IIJA will help facilitate the movement of goods across the supply chain, Spear stressed. Specifically, it aims to alleviate bottlenecks at commercial hubs.

Also included in the law is an apprenticeship program to train truckers under 21 to operate their vehicles across state lines. The initiative had been proposed in separate congressional legislation titled the DRIVE Safe Act. Recruiting and training younger drivers for jobs in trucking was an issue that ranked prominently on ATA’s list of achievements this past year.

In addition, efforts to recruit and retain women for the trucking workforce culminated in ATA’s recent launch of the Women In Motion group. The group coincides with the IIJA’s creation of the Women of Trucking Advisory Board. ATA said from the show that the industry faces a shortage of about 78,000 commercial drivers.

“ATA went even further to address our workforce challenges by standing up the Women In Motion program,” Spear affirmed, adding that it places “new emphasis on the critical role women play in the trucking industry.”

“What makes this program unique is its ability to turn barriers to entry into solutions for recruitment,” he went on. “Improving the safety and security for our workforce, including well-lit parking, has a direct correlation on attracting more women into our driver force.”

Nikki Clifton

Chris Spear (from left), former Chairman Phil Byrd, Nikki Clifton and America's Road Team Captain Allen Boyd at the presentation of the newly rechristened William "John" Lex Achievement Award. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

During his address, Spear announced Nikki Clifton as the recipient of the William “John” Lex Achievement Award on behalf of the ATA Trucking Cares Foundation. She became the first winner of the newly rechristened award.

“We are proud to recognize Nikki’s outstanding leadership and commitment to addressing some of our most immediate social, humanitarian and environmental needs, work that is strongly aligned with Trucking Cares Foundation’s mission,” Spear said.

“She pioneered the largest training initiative in our industry to combat human trafficking,” he continued, “and coordinated the in-kind distribution to COVID-19 vaccines and cold chain freezers to disadvantaged countries around the world.”

The ATA Trucking Cares Foundation Board renamed the former Trucking Cares Foundation Premier Achievement Award after Lex. A winner of the award in 2021, Lex died in January after a bout with colon cancer. He was 56. Said Spear, “In lasting recognition of John, and all those who receive this award, the board decided to rename it the William ‘John’ Lex Achievement Award.”

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