U.S. Capitol Photo: David Cullen

U.S. Capitol Photo: David Cullen

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has put together an ambitious long-term highway bill that would deliver the certainty of several years in a row of investments in highway and bridges as well as several regulatory provisions hotly sought by trucking.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (STAA) would see $325 billion spent over six years on surface-transportation infrastructure and safety programs—including $261 billion just for highways.

As it stands now, the STAA would remove certain data generated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program from public view until the Inspector General of the Dept. of Transportation has completed a thorough review of CSA. That data would include crash records, violation histories and percentile rankings with CSA’s Safety Measurement System.

The long-term bill would also require DOT to conduct a study of the feasibility of authorizing those holding CDLs who are between 19 and a half and  21 years of age to run interstate and then, based on the results, compel FMCSA to establish a pilot program for such younger truck drivers. In addition, STAA would allow the option of testing truck drivers for drug use via hair-testing instead of urine analysis,  

However, those provisions will have to survive the conference process that will ultimately meld this bill with the long-term measure passed by the Senate back in July can be sent for signing to President Obama.

But that’s not all. Unlike the Senate highway bill, which currently is funded for its first three years, the House Ways and Means Committee still has to authorize funding of the STAA.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is scheduled to mark up the STAA bill this Thursday, paving the way for it to be sent for consideration by the full House.

That’s just seven days before the current short-term patch authorizing spending on transportation runs out on Oct. 29. 

Of course, that means there will be yet another beat-the-clock scramble to get yet another brief extension of the existing highway bill passed by both chambers of Congress.

“This is a bill that improves our roads, bridges, and transportation system, as well as our economy, our competitiveness, and our everyday lives,” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said in a statement.  “The legislation streamlines, consolidates, and reforms transportation programs and offices, gives states and local governments more control in addressing their needs, refocuses on national transportation priorities, facilitates the flow of freight and commerce, and promotes innovation as we improve our infrastructure for the future. 

“The more efficient our surface transportation system is, the less time we spend in traffic, the lower the transportation costs for goods and services, and the more jobs that are created throughout the economy,” he added.

In a statement, T&I Committee Ranking Member Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) called STAA a bipartisan bill. But he said it “doesn’t provide the level of investment needed to rebuild or repair our crumbling roads, bridges, highways and transit systems.  However, it includes a critical provision that would allow for automatic adjustments and increased investments if more money flows into the Highway Trust Fund than expected.  This is a step in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, groups opposed to the trucking industry’s regulatory reform agenda are not sitting idly by. For example, The Truck Safety Coalition, a partnership between Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and Parents Against Tired Truckers, on Oct. 19 held a news conference on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to “reject anti-truck safety provisions contained in the transportation reauthorization legislation.”

The policy measures the group opposes includes some contained within funding measures already passed by the Senate, such as allowing the nationwide operation of twin 33-foot trailers on highways.

The Truck Safety Coalition is also against a measure introduced in the House, which may be amended to the new highway bill, that would allow individual states to increase the federal vehicle weight limit to 91,000 pounds for tractor-trailers equipped with a sixth axle.

Still other legislative provisions the group is lobbying against include the efforts to permit younger truck drivers to operate across state lines and to reform the CSA program.

Even some U.S. Senators are taking a public stance on a truck-related issue before Congress—those twin 33-footers that some in trucking want and some do not.

On October 21, Senators Roger Wicker, (R-MS); Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA); and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)— along with “representatives from the trucking industry, Teamsters, law enforcement, and a safety advocacy group”-- will hold a news conference outside West Front of the U.S. Capitol to present their bipartisan opposition to allowing trucks to pull double 33-foot trailers on highways.

The senators noted they will underscore their position with a dramatic backdrop— “a tractor-trailer with two 33-foot trailers measures approximately 91 feet in total length… available for viewing.”

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