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In the era of COVID-19, approval of a comprehensive highway funding package would help industries assisting in an economic recovery, a leader of American Trucking Associations told a House panel June 9.
Specifically, additional investments in infrastructure systems, such as freight corridors and transit operations, would facilitate the much-needed flow of goods and people, ATA Chairman Randy Guillot asserted during a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing.
“Truckers are the difference between a fully stocked grocery store and one lined with empty shelves. They’re why doctors and nurses have [personal protective equipment] to protect themselves. They’re how test kits get to hot spots for local officials to use to fight the virus’ spread,” said Guillot, who, in addition to his role at ATA, is president of Louisiana-based Triple G Express Inc. and Southeastern Motor Freight.
“Let me be clear. The single most important action this Congress can take right now to support our workforce — and to provide for their safety — is to invest in our infrastructure,” he added.
As congressional leaders and the Trump White House struggle to identify a sustainable source of funding for highway programs, ATA proposed the federal government provide $32 billion to state transportation agencies followed by a 5-cent increase in the federal fuel tax. To ensure the long-term stability of the Highway Trust Fund, additional 5-cent increases over the next three years should be approved. ATA has consistently advocated that Congress establish a fund that would rely on a 20-cents-per-gallon fee, phased in over four years, on motor fuels collected at the wholesale rack.
“While trucks account for only 4% of vehicles on our nation’s roads, they pay nearly half of all Highway Trust Fund user fees. And truckers are willing to pay more to get this job done,” Guillot noted. A week earlier, he shared a similar message during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.
The Highway Trust Fund is backed by dwindling revenue from the federal fuel tax. The 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax and 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax were set in 1993.
Let me be clear. The single most important action this Congress can take right now to support our workforce — and to provide for their safety — is to invest in our infrastructure.
Randy Guillot, ATA Chairman
Additionally, the ATA chairman expressed support for including in a COVID-19 emergency aid package incentives across the trucking industry for accessing new fuel-efficient equipment. ATA also is calling for Congress to impose certain temporary limitations on the liability of commercial motor carriers for certain crisis-related circumstances.
“Providing limited and narrow liability protections to motor carriers and other industries who have acted in good faith on the front lines of the pandemic will ensure our response and recovery efforts are not assaulted by boundless liability,” Guillot explained.
Other stakeholders at the House hearing also pressed policymakers to dedicate long-term funding to fix and modernize the transportation networks. Among them was Larry Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department at the AFL-CIO, who detailed potential economic benefits from infrastructure investments.
“Those investments directly create and sustain good jobs in construction, engineering, maintenance and operations,” Willis said. “What’s more, when we improve the quality and accessibility of our transportation network, the economic opportunity of those investments extends to every corner of the American economy — from businesses who can move goods quicker and more reliably, to workers who can reach new opportunities because of improved highway and transit access.”
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, recently unveiled a five-year, $494 billion bill that would update the current highway law. The chairman indicated he intends to advance the bill to the House floor in July.
The House bill, which proposes $4.6 billion for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, lacks a sustainable source of funding. The House Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over the Highway Trust Fund.
A Senate committee last year approved a five-year, $287 billion highway bill, which also lacks a funding source. The current FAST Act highway law expires Sept 30.
Separately from the highway measure, momentum for a major infrastructure package is fading in Washington. Neither the White House nor congressional leaders have recently pushed forward with a big-picture infrastructure plan.
At the hearing, House policymakers emphasized the pandemic’s effect on operations for commercial drivers, flight attendants and transit employees, among other personnel.
“Truck drivers played a vital role in the early response to COVID-19, keeping grocery stores stocked with supplies and transporting [personal protective equipment] and other medical equipment across the country,” DeFazio said.
“Moving forward to recovery, we must make smart, safe and calculated decisions to get our workforce going and businesses hiring again. This will affect our ability to restart and reconnect supply chains that are key to economic recovery,” added Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the panel’s ranking member. “As Americans get back to traveling, they need safe and effective measures to give them the confidence needed to return. But we also must ensure that the workers providing these transportation services are safe.”
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