Rep. Rick Crawford Talks Truck Parking, IIJA Oversight
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The likelihood of Congress advancing parking-centric legislation meant to assist truck drivers in the country is increasing.
Not surprisingly, since the start of the year, transportation policymakers in the House and the Senate have proposed funding programs aimed at expanding parking access across the commercial transportation sector. The latest legislative push is a continuation of unsuccessful efforts in previous sessions of Congress.
The Highways and Transit Subcommittee, managed by Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), will be central to advancing any kind of trucking-related parking remedy. As chairman of the subcommittee, he insists the oversight of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be a top priority. However, in addition to robust oversight, Crawford expressed optimism about arriving at a measure that would respond to the industry’s longstanding concern. His GOP caucus is managing the chamber, key Democrats are displaying bipartisanship and the Biden administration indicated it recognizes concerns related to a lack of truck parking.
During a wide-ranging interview with Transport Topics on March 29, Crawford argued addressing the truck parking matter would improve supply chain connectivity and assist with workforce recruitment and retention as the industry grapples with a driver shortage. As he put it, “Our supply chain, when it works, is a thing of beauty. But it is fragile and it’s particularly true in the trucking industry.”
“We’ve seen the driver shortage increase in a three-year span to now topping 80,000. We’re seeing an aging out of the driving force in the trucking industry. So we’re open to ideas on how we address that,” he continued. “You gotta have locations for [truckers] to be able to rest. And instead of addressing the shortage of parking, [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] was more concerned about electric charging stations, which is just completely and totally not indicated for the trucking industry right now.”
In the coming weeks, the subcommittee plans to meet for a hearing specific to trucking industry policies and regulations. Last month, House and Senate policymakers introduced versions of the Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act. Sponsored by Reps. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) and Angie Craig (D-Minn.) in the House, the legislation would authorize $755 million in competitive grants to expand access and assist with improvements to existing parking areas for commercial vehicles. Before that, House lawmakers introduced a similar proposal.
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American Trucking Associations is endorsing the measure. “The lack of safe and accessible truck parking places an enormous and costly burden on our nation’s truck drivers as they work to deliver for the American people,” said ATA President Chris Spear. “Given the chronic nature of this issue and its national scope, it is imperative Congress takes action to provide dedicated funding to expand commercial truck parking capacity.” ATA determined the trucking workforce is short about 78,000 drivers.
The American Transportation Research Institute classified inadequate access to parking as third on its “Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry” in 2022.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has raised the profile of parking needs for the women and men who operate commercial vehicles. At a recent Senate hearing, Buttigieg pointed to the Department of Transportation’s efforts to collaborate with agencies for adding parking facilities. “I completely agree with the importance of this issue,” said the secretary before the Senate panel. “When you talk with truck drivers it’s one of the first things that they’ll raise. And it’s not just a matter of convenience. It’s really a matter of safety.”
Crawford said he welcomes bipartisanship on the issue, However, the secretary’s response to recent national transportation-related crises has raised alarms for the senior lawmaker. Specifically, he referenced Buttigieg’s response to a freight train derailment earlier this year in East Palestine, Ohio. Claiming the secretary has “really performed very poorly,” Crawford went on, “We can’t get our secretary of transportation to display any degree of caring or compassion about what was taking place there. That’s just one example.”
“I can tell you without reservation, I think, he is, in my tenure, he’s been the poorest-performing secretary that I can recall,” Crawford emphasized further.
Regarding the derailment in Ohio of a Norfolk Southern train, Buttigieg visited the area and the U.S. Department of Transportation proceeded with investigations and safety directives designed to assist agencies. The National Transportation Safety Board also is continuing with an in-depth examination of the derailment.
As the subcommittee maintains a focus on evaluating IIJA’s multiyear implementation, questions about funding and the federal budget are being raised. Pressure is mounting for Congress to raise the country’s borrowing authority, or debt limit, by early June, or sooner. Crawford expects his Republican colleagues to keep sounding the alarm over spending priorities promoted by the Biden White House. He observed, “The president is unyielding on the debt limit with regard to entertaining any kind of cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit.”