June 16, 2014 2:30 AM, EDT

House Approves Fiscal 2015 Spending Bill, Blocks Increasing Minimum Insurance Levels

By Eugene Mulero, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the June 16 print edition of Transport Topics.

The GOP-led House last week narrowly passed a fiscal 2015 transportation funding bill, which included a measure to prohibit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from raising minimum liability insurance requirements for trucking and bus companies.

While the legislation, approved by a vote of 229-192, also would require FMCSA to prove to Congress that changes to the hours-of-service restart rules are improving safety, it does include an amendment working through the Senate that would suspend those changes for one year.

Likewise, the House measure, sponsored by Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), does not include an amendment to force FMCSA to issue its final electronic logging mandate by Jan. 30 (see story, p. 1).

The House’s amended $52 billion Transportation and Housing and Urban Development legislation, which would fund the country’s transportation system, is about $1.2 billion more than the fiscal 2014 enacted level and about $8 billion less than the Obama administration’s fiscal 2015 budget request.

Before voting June 10 to advance the bill to the Senate, the House also adopted an amendment, by a vote of 214-212, to prevent FMCSA from lifting the minimum amount of insurance that trucking fleets must carry to $750,000.

Calling on colleagues for their support, Rep. Steven Daines (R-Montana) said his amendment would “let the small business owners decide what they want to insure.”

The bill also would limit the administration’s attempt in fiscal 2015 to help states and cities finance road construction projects through Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants. The bill would provide $100 million for the grants, which is $500 million less than current levels. The Senate transportation funding bill would provide $550 million for TIGER.

The House’s overall spending bill also would allow state transportation officials to set higher weight limits for trucks if U.S. Route 41 in Wisconsin and U.S. Route 78 in Mississippi are designated as part of the interstate highway system.

Idaho would have longer combination trucks on its stretch of the interstate system under the bill if the trucks have a gross weight of 129,000 pounds or less and are authorized to operate under state law.

In a policy paper released June 9, the White House objected to trucking provisions regarding weight limits, noting that they “weaken highway safety by altering or revising the existing safety regulations for motor carrier operators.”

The administration stressed that changes to size-and-weight policies for highways should occur after the Department of Transportation releases a study on the issue. A report is due out in mid-November.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the measure is “critically important.”

The legislation also would mostly prohibit Texas from imposing tolls on its existing interstate system and, like a Senate version, it does not propose a long-term funding system to shore up a depleting federal highway account.

The Department of Transportation uses the Highway Trust Fund to help states pay for infrastructure projects, but the agency projected it will run out of money as early as late July.

On June 12, Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the leaders of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee, introduced the Obama administration’s $302 billion, four-year transportation proposal in bill form. The legislation is not expected to advance through the GOP-led chamber.