Heavy Duty Trucking

AUG 2014

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18 HDT • AUGUST 2014 www.truckinginfo.com WASHINGTONreport t Congress passes 10-month highway bill C ongress pushed the Highway Trust Fund to the edge of the precipice before settling on a $10.6 billion package that will keep road payments flow- ing through May of next year. With just hours left before the Department of Transportation was going to start cutting reimbursements to the states for their ongoing highway projects, the Senate accepted a House bill that it had previously rejected. The fund's immediate problem was a short- age of cash, but it also is on a long-term path of taking in less money than is needed. The federal fuel taxes that feed it have not been raised since 1993, and vehicles are becoming more fuel-efficient. The bill is a relief to state officials who feared they would have to stop projects and lay off workers. How- ever, it is a failure in that for the 12th time in five years, Congress settled for a short-term fix for the fed- eral highway program. States require a multi-year program with reliable funding so they can plan and execute complex highway projects. The debate in the House and Senate was filled with repeated statements about the need for long-term funding. The Senate tried to ad- dress that problem but the House would have none of it. In a bipartisan vote, the Senate passed an exten- sion only until Dec. 19 with the aim of forcing Con- gress to decide on long-term funding this year. Supporters of this approach argued that a May deadline would push the issue into the 2016 presi- dential election season and make it practically impossible to get a vote to spend more money. The Senate's bill failed in the House, which saw the December deadline as a ploy to get a vote on a highway tax increase during the lame duck ses- sion – after the November election but before new members have taken office. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who supports raising fuel taxes to pay for a long-term infrastructure bill, said that what the Senate did was "magic." "The institution functioned as our Founding Fathers intended – we debated, we offered amend- ments, we worked across party lines," he said. "In the end, an over- whelming bipartisan major- ity – 79 Senators – chose to vote for a proposal to en- sure Congress completes its work to pass long-term, fully-funded transportation legislation by the end of the year." The House, however, "chose to kick the can down the road into next year," Carper said. The debate in the House did wring from Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., a promise that the Ways and Means Committee, which he chairs, would hold a hearing on highway finance in September. He indicated that the hearing would look at a variety of ways to pay for a longer bill besides the traditional approach of raising the fuel tax. Carper took the Senate vote as a sign that there are members who are willing to take on the chal- lenge of long-term funding. "There is a coalition of the willing that … in- cludes Democrats and Republicans, business and labor leaders, truckers, motorists, transit riders and even cyclists," he said. n The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is implementing a number of changes designed to im- prove the Safety Measurement System website, which displays carrier information under the Compliance, Safety, Accountability enforcement regime. The SMS site is where carriers and the public go to get the safety performance data the agency uses to determine which carriers pose a risk and need to be investigated. FMCSA upgrades CSA safety data website The changes, which the agency proposed last November based on suggestions from the industry and others, are intended to make the website more accessible and useful. They include more carrier information, a tour of the website to explain its features, and customizable dis- plays and graphs to portray carrier safety performance over time. PHOTO: @ISTOCKPHOTO/COM

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