Letters: Highway Infrastructure, Chamber Study Flawed, Natural Gas Redux

These Letters to the Editor appear in the Oct. 19 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Highway Infrastructure

I applaud Bill Graves, president of American Trucking Associations, for trying to get the Obama administration to make highway infrastructure rebuilding the No. 1 priority. (“Opinion: It’s the Message That Matters,” 10-5, p. 9; click here for previous opinion piece.)

The U.S. Department of Transportation, American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials and Ernst & Young have concluded that each billion dollars invested in infrastructure will generate 35,000 to 40,000 direct construction jobs — and jobs are a “must have” to fix our economy.

Investing $150 billion to $200 billion each year for the next five years will produce 6 million to 8 million jobs and drop the unemployment rate to 4%.

Bill Graves is the voice and face of our industry and must present a strong and convincing case to Congress for increasing fuel taxes to create jobs. The big question he didn’t answer is funding.

Let me explain.

The United States needs a national transportation infrastructure plan married to a na-tional energy initiative that will put it on a critical path to economic recovery and energy independence. At present, we have no coordinated national strategy that connects the funding and repair of our transportation infrastructure with a strategic energy policy for achieving energy independence. Like China and Europe, the United States needs to recognize the strategic value of a master national plan.

Reliable sources estimate that a minimum of $150 billion per year for the next five years is needed at all levels of government to repair and improve our bridges and roads. However, despite these estimates, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 includes only $27.5 billion for repairing bridges and roads.

Because the U.S. national debt will exceed $12 trillion by the end of 2009, the federal government will be constrained from printing money to plug the huge shortfall in funding the maintenance of our bridges and roads. The shortfall could be satisfied with an increase in fuel taxes of 50 cents per gallon in 2009 and, thereafter, with an additional 15 cents per gallon to replace the onetime $27.5 billion provided in the stimulus plan.

The current federal fuel tax on gasoline and diesel is 18.4 cents and 24.4 cents respectively.

Neither tax has been increased since 1993.

A floor for the price of fuel needs to be created with taxes in order to attract investment in alternative energy and new fuel-efficient technologies for motor vehicles. To be sensitive to the pocketbooks of consumers, this tax should be pegged to the price of oil so that when the price of oil goes up, the tax goes down and vice versa.

Political opponents will argue that increasing fuel taxes is a non starter because of the state of the economy. But this recession is precisely the right time to raise fuel taxes because fuel prices are the lowest since 2002.

Increasing fuel taxes to fund infrastructure construction will produce benefits that would be enormous because, most important, it will result in the creation of jobs. More specifically:

 It will fund basic infrastructure requirements for the next five years.

 It will create more than 5 million jobs.

 It will attract investment in fuel-efficient vehicles to help revitalize the U.S. motor vehicle industry and related manufacturing sectors. This will create additional jobs.

 It will create a floor for fuel prices to give investors the confidence to invest in alternative energy sources: wind, solar and especially nuclear. This will create more jobs.

 It will provide transition time to formulate a national energy policy to make the U.S. energy independent.

If a fuel tax increase is explained in these terms, Americans would embrace it enthusiastically because:

 Unemployment would drop. 

The economy would be ignited. 

The stock market would explode. 

Retirement funds would recapture lost wealth. 

Housing values would increase. 

Alternative energy investment would increase. 

CO2 emissions would decline.

The United States rose to world leadership in the 20th century with confident leaders who understood risk, accepted responsibility for tough decisions

and made sacrifices that promoted the welfare of their country. Today’s economic crisis is presenting us with a golden opportunity to rebuild our infrastructure, restart our economy and execute a plan for climate change and energy independence.

John A. Simourian
Lily Transportation
Needham, Mass.

Chamber Study Flawed

This is in response to the article headlined “Study Sees $4.8 Bln. Cost From Mexican Truck Ban” (9-28, p. 5; click here for previous story). The entire premise of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce study that is cited in this article is flawed.

This study is based on the assumption that a driver who cannot read or write in English can safely transport goods across the United States. Anyone who actually drives a truck — and the police who deal with wrecks on U.S. highways — can attest that complying with federal and state laws requires proficiency in English, as does completing the ever-growing blizzard of paperwork such as log books.

The proposal to allow Mexican trucks on U.S. highways comes down to the issues of safety and the financial responsibility of common carriers.

Safety on U.S. highways and the English language are inseparable. Why does the Chamber of Commerce not see this connection? It’s because American Trucking Associations and state trucking organizations have forgotten to inform regulators

about this basic principle of safe truck operation.

While it may be possible to drive a car across America without speaking or writing in English, the same is not true for trucking. No American trucker would take his rig into Mexico without being able to speak Spanish.

ATA should oppose any effort to allow non-English-speaking truck drivers on America’s highways. Someone needs to get the right information to President Obama’s staff and to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s acting administrator, Rose McMurray, before they assent to anything proposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

An English proficiency exam should be required for every Mexican driver before one enters the United States.

Leveling the playing field starts with a concern for safety.

David Dwinell
Master Broker
Youngtown, Ariz.

Natural Gas Redux

The Oct. 5 issue included a letter that began: “Say ‘no’ to the T. Boone Pickens plan and to H.R. 1835, the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act — the NAT GAS Act of 2009 — a bipartisan bill recently introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.).” (Click here for previous letter.)

Does anyone miss the irony in a U.S. congressman from Oklahoma sponsoring this bill? Chesapeake Energy is based in Oklahoma City and is one of the largest natural gas producing companies in the country, if not the world — and with a CEO recognized as the highest-paid executive in the country.

Brian Gregg
[Trucking company name withheld by request]
Claims Manager
Hurricane, Utah


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