Groups such as the Truckload Carriers Association and the International Foodservice Distributors...

Groups such as the Truckload Carriers Association and the International Foodservice Distributors Association praised the younger-driver pilot program in the infrastructure bill.

Photo: IFDA

Spurred by a drubbing on election day, moderate and progressive Democrats in the House put aside their differences to pass President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package 228-206, including the votes of some Republicans. The Senate passed the measure three months earlier; the bill now awaits President Biden’s signature.

No small achievement in political terms, passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act fulfilled one of Biden’s core campaign promises. In breaking the legislative logjam on Capitol Hill, it may also help propel to passage the president’s other and yet larger “Build Back Better” policy package.

The president has stated for months that together, both bills would boost the economy for years. Economists appear to agree that the two bills would likely boost economic activity and job growth over time, according to numerous news reports out since the House voted.

Yet it’s the guts of the infrastructure bill that make it stand out on its own. For the first time, such a massive infrastructure bill goes beyond roads and bridges as well as railroads, ports, airports, and public transportation.

It’s a big bill and not all of it matters to everyone; for example, it includes a tax-reporting requirement for cryptocurrency transactions. But here are some of the highlights that matter to trucking.

Highlights of the Infrastructure Bill

The major components of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act include $550 billion of new funding for transportation projects

Within that overall figure, $110 billion is earmarked for fixing and building roads, bridges, and other major highway projects. Another $66 billion is dedicated to freight and passenger rail projects and $39 billion for improving public transit.

The bill will kick in $65 billion to build out the country's broadband infrastructure, with the goal being to help provide access to high-speed internet for every American. While one in four households are expected to be eligible for a $30 monthly subsidy to help pay for internet access, the buildout will also benefit businesses that have been operating in “no cell zones,” including trucks on the road.

Also of interest to trucking is funding that will be poured into improving the nation’s hinky electric grid — sorely needed to support electric vehicle adoption, for one thing — and improving broadband access, especially to rural areas.

Despite the clean-energy measures jettisoned to capture the votes of spend-less lawmakers, the bill still contains $65 billion to upgrade the rapidly aging electric grid. Those funds will go to installing thousands of miles of new transmission lines as well as to support “green” smart-grid technology.

The bill’s electric push also extends to putting $7.5 billion up for the nation's first network of electric-vehicle chargers installed along highway corridors. Another $5 billion will go to subsidize the purchase of certain zero-emission vehicles, including thousands of electric school buses. That can only help accelerate electric vehicle technology for medium-duty commercial trucks.

The measure will also inject $11 billion into transportation safety programs, including a new program aimed at helping states and localities reduce crashes and fatalities, especially of cyclists and pedestrians.

Of special note to trucking, the bill will require setting up an apprenticeship pilot program for commercial driver’s license holders under the age of 21 to operate in interstate commerce. It calls for specific probationary periods; and for apprentices to be accompanied in the passenger seat by an experienced driver. In addition, the trucks driven by these apprentices are to be equipped with an active braking collision mitigation system, automated or automatic transmission, forward-facing video event capture system, and a governed speed of 65 mph.

The bill also directs the Department of Transportation to study and potentially mandate automatic emergency braking on new commercial motor vehicles. In addition, it  calls for strengthening rear trailer underride guard standards; more research on side underride guards, as well as establishing an Advisory Committee on Underride Protection.

The bill does not include previously discussed measures that called for increasing minimum insurance levels. Likewise, it includes no language that would impact the current independent contractor business model utilized in trucking.

Trucking Reaction to Infrastructure Bill

Given the abysmal state of America’s road and bridges, not to mention the other major investments that will positively impact freight transportation, it’s no wonder the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has been met by and large with applause by trucking industry groups.

Almost immediately after the bill’s passage on Nov. 5, American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear issued a statement praising the package.

“Roads and bridges are not political — we all drive on them,” spear said. “A majority in the House realized this today and did what’s right for the country, not themselves.”

He said the “lawmakers who put their constituents before themselves to help seal this achievement have cemented a lasting legacy that the American people will now see, feel, and use for many decades to come.

“After countless hearings and meetings on Capitol Hill,” he added, “ATA members will finally see the fruits of their labor — a 38% increase in road and bridge funding, and an infusion of highly-trained, younger talent into our workforce.”

The Truckload Carriers Association also praised the bill, calling ita significant investment in our nation’s roads and bridges [that] delivers a desperately needed injection into the Highway Trust Fund to keep it solvent.”

TCA added that it is excited that the bill “provides an opportunity to expose a younger demographic to an industry that welcomes them and are pleased with the commitments the bill makes to establishing long-term improvements for infrastructure. Even more importantly, Congress has heard our message concerning threats to the independent contractor business model and opted not to include any language regarding the PRO Act that would have jeopardized a business practice that has a long history of success in our industry.”

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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