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May 18, 2015 1:30 AM, EDT

Panel OKs Road Fund Bill That Includes HOS Provision

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By Eugene Mulero, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the May 18 print edition of Transport Topics.

WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee on May 13 voted to send a fiscal 2016 transportation funding bill to the House floor after defeating an attempt by Democrats to remove a provision that would add new requirements to a study on an hours-of-service rule for truckers.

The panel rejected an effort by Rep. David Price of North Carolina to remove the HOS provision and other provisions related to increasing truck size and weight by a party-line vote of 31-20.

A copy of Price’s amendment was not made available at the hearing.

“Each of these riders would change existing policy without being subject to thorough debate and at a time when the authorizing committee is preparing to write the surface transportation authorizing bill,” Price said. “They add controversy to a bill that is already overburdened.”

Other Democrats on the panel objected to the trucking provision. “Christmas came early for the trucking industry,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the committee’s ranking member.

Under the bill, before the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s 34-hour restart rule is reinstated, there must be a study addressing whether the rule has safety benefits and is better for drivers in terms of fatigue, health and work schedules. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which was contracted by the agency, has commenced the study. The bill also would permit use of twin 33-foot trailers.

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) voted against Price’s amendment.

“Trucking is very important to our nation,” Fleischmann said prior to the vote. “This is just good, common-sense business practice. I think it’s good for the industry. We want to make sure that we don’t put any undue burdens on our small businesses.”

A spokesman for American Trucking Associations said the HOS provision is intended to ensure the ongoing restart study is conducted fairly and its findings are taken seriously by the industry.

Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, disagreed with ATA’s assessment.

“If these industry giveaways are enacted into law, there will be oversized and overweight trucks being driven by overworked truckers throughout the country. Public opinion polls are clear and convincing. The public does not support any of these changes by large majorities,” Gillan said.

The panel also rejected, by a 29-21 vote, another amendment Price offered that would have increased funding for certain transportation safety programs.

The legislation sent to the House floor would provide $572 million for FMCSA, the trucking regulator. Of those funds, $218 million would go toward the motor carrier safety assistance program, or MCSAP, which provides states and U.S. territories with grants to conduct inspections; $30 million would be provided for the commercial driver license program improvement grants to help ensure only qualified drivers are eligible to receive and retain the license; and $25 million for the commercial vehicle information systems and networks deployment program, which aims to improve efficiency through electronic screening of commercial vehicles.

The measure also would provide $40.25 billion for the Highway Trust Fund, matching the 2015 level. That funding would be contingent on adoption of a transportation policy bill that would update the programs in a 2012 highway law which expires May 31.

Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said, “Funding is targeted toward critical infrastructure — programs that keep our commerce moving and that make our roads, rails, ports and airways safer and more efficient for those who use them.”

The bill is expected to be heard on the House floor as early as next week. Senate appropriators have yet to schedule a hearing on their transportation funding bill.