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April 10, 2019 10:30 AM, EDT

Opinion: Congress Must Act on Infrastructure Crisis

No one is more keenly aware of America’s present infrastructure crisis than the trucking industry. Since 1993 — when the federal fuel tax was last increased — truckers have endured a deteriorating and sometimes dangerous national network of roads and bridges just to keep our economy moving.

Inadequate infrastructure creates traffic congestion that costs our industry $74.5 billion in additional operating costs every year, resulting in 1.2 billion hours of lost productivity — or the equivalent of 425,000 truck drivers sitting idle for an entire year.

Chris Spear

Spear

These conditions are unsustainable. They are unacceptable. And without immediate action, they will worsen; the Highway Trust Fund is drying up — it could be insolvent within a year. The time for Congress to act on infrastructure is now. Waiting is not an option.

That is why American Trucking Associations is stepping up our call on Washington with a new media and grassroots advocacy campaign that turns up the pressure on Congress and the administration to enact comprehensive infrastructure funding legislation.

The campaign includes television and digital advertising that reframes the costs of inadequate infrastructure through the context of personal life moments relatable to consumers. Too often the infrastructure debate in D.C. gets lost in the politics, process and “pay fors” of the issue; it misses the human toll that poor infrastructure takes on the lives of ordinary Americans. This campaign taps into the frustration experienced by the broader motoring public to push Congress toward action.

When it comes to maintaining America’s roads and bridges, truckers have always led the way, putting our money where our mouth is by paying nearly half the fees into the nation’s Highway Trust Fund despite accounting for just 4% of the vehicles on the road. We’ve made it clear to Congress and the White House that our industry will continue to pay our fair share to get the job done. That’s why ATA proposed the Build America Fund — a federal fuel usage fee built into the price of wholesale transportation fuels collected at the terminal rack that would be phased in at a nickel per year over four years. The BAF will generate an estimated $340 billion over the course of a decade — money that will flow immediately and directly to roads and bridges beginning on Day One.

This will not only cover the highway funding gap, but also create an account to invest in the nation’s most urgent infrastructure needs, including projects at the state and local level. The fee would be indexed to both inflation and improvements in fuel efficiency, with a 5% annual cap. This idea has been well-received and is gaining traction on both sides. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao has indicated that an increase in the federal fuel user fee is among the funding options on the table.

It’s unfortunate that decades of failed leadership in Washington have led to this present state of affairs. However, there are hopeful signs that the two parties are finding common ground, and see a legislative path forward. Key Democrats in Congress have indicated support for the fuel tax. Significantly, even some Republicans who historically have opposed the fee are indicating a willingness to now consider it. ATA has worked both behind the scenes as well as out front — helping to shape congressional hearings to educate skeptical lawmakers on the proposal’s merits. There is realization that this is the most fiscally conservative proposal — costing less than one cent on the dollar to administer. To compare that to tolling, as much as 35 cents of every dollar collected in tolls is spent on overhead, administrative and enforcement costs.

There’s a reason why President Ronald Reagan twice signed fuel user fees into law with the broad support of organized business and labor. No other solution can offer the immediate, cost-effective and measurable results desperately needed to fix our infrastructure and support our economy.

The greatest obstacle today to achieving an essential level of infrastructure funding is the lack of political courage to get the job done; political gridlock underlies the traffic gridlock we see on our roads and bridges. As the “builder in chief,” President Donald Trump has a very real but also fleeting opportunity to work with this Congress and build a legacy that Americans will continue to use, see and feel for decades to come. It’s time to get moving.

To learn more about the campaign, visit roadtoabetterfuture.com.

Chris Spear is President and CEO of American Trucking Associations.