ATA CEO Spear Tells Senate U.S. is Facing Infrastructure Crisis

May 11, 2021 by Trucks.com, @trucksdotcom

American Trucking Asssociations Chief Executive Chris Spear testified before Congress this week with a laundry list of things the trucking industry needs to keep commerce moving efficiently in the U.S.

Here are excerpts from his testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee on Tuesday:

TRUCKING AND THE ECONOMY

Trucking is the dynamic linchpin of the United States’ supply chain that keeps the wheels of our economy turning. This year, our industry will move more than 70  percent of the nation’s freight tonnage. Over the next decade, trucks will be tasked with moving 2.4 billion more tons of freight than they do today… Trucks will continue to be the dominant freight transportation mode for the foreseeable future.

The infrastructure that we operate upon, and our national economy are all rapidly approaching a crisis point… Headwinds—such as deteriorating roads and bridges, severe congestion, bottlenecks, and unprecedented backlogs at our maritime ports—delay the movement of people and goods, threatening our global competitiveness and the continuity of the international supply chain. Hurdles—like the crippling shortage of drivers and mechanics, recruitment pipelines that were decimated by the pandemic, and barriers preventing the industry from reaching a new generation of drivers—increase freight transportation costs and imperil the supply of consumer goods. And challenges—such as antiquated regulatory barriers that could delay a technological transformation in the movement of freight—threaten to impede an industry-wide shift toward greater sustainability, allowing trucks to move more safely and efficiently, and with less impact on the environment than we ever dared to imagine.

The trucking industry welcomes the efforts of Congress and the Biden Administration to pursue a real and meaningful investment in our nation’s infrastructure. For decades, federal policymakers have deferred and delayed infrastructure investments that American families and businesses desperately need to enhance safety, reduce congestion and improve commerce.

Spear outlined the biggest priorities for the trucking industry.

INTERMODAL CONNECTORS

Freight intermodal connectors—those roads that connect ports, rail yards, airports, and other intermodal facilities to the National Highway System—are critical to trade and a seamless supply chain. While intermodal connectors are an essential part of the freight distribution system, many are neglected and are not given the attention they deserve in spite of their importance to the nation’s economy. Just nine percent of connectors are in good or very good condition, 19 percent are in mediocre condition, and 37 percent are in poor condition.

One possible reason connectors are neglected is that the vast majority of these roads—70 percent—are under the jurisdiction of a local or county government. Yet, these roads are serving critical regional, national, and international needs well beyond the geographic boundaries of the jurisdictions that have responsibility for them, and these broader benefits may not be factored into the local jurisdictions’ spending decisions. While intermodal connectors are eligible for federal funding, it is clear that this is simply not good enough. We urge Congress to set aside adequate funding for freight intermodal connectors to ensure that these critical arteries are given the attention and resources they deserve.

PORT CONGESTION AND BOTTLENECKS

Ports have had difficulty managing an influx of container ships, and the increased traffic in the maritime domain has created significant challenges for every link in the worldwide supply chain. Intermodal motor carriers play a critical role in the global supply chain, moving freight to and from the ports and railyards, as well as providing the last mile of delivery to get products directly to customers. Bottlenecks and congestion at ports have a trickle-down effect on the motor carriers who haul intermodal freight, and existing shortages of containers, chassis, terminal appointments, draymen, and truck drivers only exacerbate these supply chain disruptions. These supply chain issues have also created problems for American exporters, especially in agriculture, by making it more difficult for producers to get their products to overseas markets.

The increased cargo volumes at ports and the resulting bottlenecks have demonstrated the importance of reliable, well-maintained infrastructure to handle the intermodal aspect of international trade, which will continue to grow in the coming years. Without question, additional resources are needed to facilitate truck drivers’ timely access to ports, as well as their ability to obtain equipment to load and unload containers in a timely fashion.

FREIGHT FUNDING PROGRAMS

Both the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program and the National Highway Freight Program provided dedicated funds for projects that improve traffic flow and enhance safety on transportation facilities with significant freight volumes. These programs should be continued with increased funding. Moreover, ATA supports maintaining the 10 percent cap on non-highway projects under these programs. Trucks move 70 percent of freight tonnage and are key to the efficient movement of intermodal freight. Furthermore, trucking is the only freight mode that contributes directly to the Highway Trust Fund and should not be forced to further subsidize modes that do not contribute.

TRUCK PARKING

There is a significant shortage of available, safe parking for truck drivers in most regions of the country… Truck parking is most problematic along key freight corridors, near major ports, around intermodal facilities, and in metropolitan areas. Given the projected growth in demand for trucking services, this problem—as well as the clear safety implications for truck drivers and the motoring public—will likely worsen. FMCSA regulations require drivers to take rest breaks after they have driven for a specified number of hours, and if a driver is unable to find safe, legal parking, he or she is in a lose-lose conundrum, forced to either operate illegally or park in an unsafe or unauthorized location. Federal hours of service rules were designed to promote the highest levels of highway safety, but the shortage of safe truck parking spaces makes it difficult, if not impossible, for drivers to follow the law…. We urge Congress to enact the Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act, legislation that would establish a competitive discretionary grant program and dedicate $755 million from the Highway Trust Fund over the course of five years for truck parking projects across the country. With a focus on increasing capacity, the bill would provide funding for the construction of new spaces at both public and private facilities, while also helping public entities convert existing facilities—such as weigh stations and closed rest areas—into truck parking locations.

HOW TO PAY FOR INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENTS

There’s no tax that safeguards taxpayer dollars as vigorously as the fuel user-fee does. Contrary to the ideological demagoguery surrounding this policy, the “fuel tax” is a model example of federal revenue efficiency. That’s because it is collected at the wholesale level long before gasoline reaches the retail pump. There are roughly 1,300 wholesale racks across the country collectively operated by less than 270 entities—meaning fewer than 300 entities actually remit this tax. The result is a tried-and-true system that minimizes overhead costs and maximizes efficiency— i.e. value—for road users. Ninety-nine cents of every dollar collected flows directly into the Highway Trust Fund. Compare that to alternatives like tolling or vehicle-miles tax systems, where as much as 20 cents of every dollar is lost to administrative and collection costs.

While ATA considers an increase in the fuel tax to be the best and most immediate means for improving our nation’s roads and bridges, we also recognize that improvements in fuel efficiency and the development of new technologies may eventually render the fuel tax to be a diminishing source of revenue for surface transportation improvements over the long term. We therefore encourage Congress, in consultation with the executive branch, state and local partners, and the private sector, to continue to work toward identifying future revenue sources. ATA urges Congress to include in the imminent surface transportation reauthorization bill a plan to bolster current highway funding mechanisms in the short-term, and ultimately replace them with new, more sustainable revenue sources in the long-term. We recommend a ten-year strategy that includes the creation of a blue-ribbon commission to explore the effectiveness of existing pilot programs, and provide recommendations for Congress to consider as it eventually transitions away from the fuel tax.

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