Outside my window, falling leaves frolic in the chilling wind and gift catalogs sail into the mailbox. Swiftly approach the holidays, beckoning us to reflect on the past and toast one another with good cheer.
Ah, but trucking is already aglow, grinning from ear to ear like the kid who found the hidden stash of Christmas presents. The industry has got its gargantuan gift, one long anticipated and accomplished with much political gamesmanship: President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. Passed by Congress on Nov. 5, it was signed into law on Nov. 15.
You can read about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act almost anywhere except on the back of a cereal box. As for a quick summary of what’s of greatest interest to fleet operators, the bill will pour $110 billion into fixing and building roads, bridges, and other major highway projects.
Another $66 billion will fund freight and passenger rail projects, including intermodal. The bill will also kick in $65 billion to build out the country’s broadband infrastructure. That will benefit businesses that have been operating in “no cell zones,” including those with trucks on the road. Also, $65 billion will go to upgrading the rapidly aging electric grid and $7.5 billion will fund the nation’s first network of electric-vehicle chargers installed along highway corridors.
But wait. There’s more.
Trucking is owed another key bill, one that Congress has been kicking down the road all year long. The latest highway bill, more formally known as surface transportation reauthorization, is one of several nifty pieces of legislation that work its way across Capitol Hill to fund (or not) the activities of the sundry federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation and its Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
A version that went to the full Senate on Oct. 4 is expected to be approved by the House at some point. This bill, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 (S.1931) would authorize $303.5 billion out of the Highway Trust Fund over five years to fund roads, highways, and bridges.
That’s a big number — a jump of more than 34% over the current highway bill, known as the FAST Act, which expired last year but has been temporarily extended more than once. In fact, it would be the largest amount of funding ever authorized by a surface transportation bill. Among other provisions, this bill would authorize $2.5 billion over five years to build out “alternative fuel corridors” along the National Highway System.
A finalized highway bill remains in legislative limbo. That’s because on Oct. 31, Congress opted to yet again extend the provisions of the current surface transportation authorization until Dec. 3.
I never did get the crystal ball I implored Santa for six years ago, so it’s anyone’s guess when a highway bill will come up for a final vote. So, rather than visions of sugar-plums dancing in your heads, dream fervently that this other present for trucking will be delivered early in the new year.
In the meantime, your U.S. senators and representatives will be on holiday break. That means you can become their very own Nightmare Before Christmas. This is one of the times when lawmakers are easily reachable — even to visit in person — at their local offices and at civic events around their states and districts. Buttonhole them in person or by phone or email. But let them know what tops your shopping list, starting with getting your highway bill passed.
I’m closing out this topsy-turvy year by wishing a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good read! [With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” first published anonymously on Dec. 23, 1823.]
This commentary first appeared in the December 2021 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.