Logbook – December 20081

| December 12, 2008

Border program extended, DOT says
The Bush administration’s cross-border trucking program with Mexico will be extended for two years, FMCSA director John Hill announced Aug. 4.

“I am pleased with the success of our demonstration project,” Hill said, “but the participation has been limited by the uncertainty of the project’s longevity.”

That uncertainty will increase when Bush leaves office Jan. 20, 2009, leaving all federal transportation programs up to his successor. Moreover, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee had approved legislation to stop the cross-border program July 31, only days before Hill’s announcement.

“All along, DOT has said this would be a one-year pilot, so I’m holding them to their word,” said U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore, who introduced the bill to end the program.

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., and two Republicans, U.S. Rep. John Mica of Florida and U.S. Rep. John Duncan of Tennessee, co-sponsored the bill.

The program, which began Sept. 6, allows Mexican trucks to begin traveling beyond a 25-mile zone into the U.S. interior. U.S. trucks participating in the pilot program also are permitted to haul cargo deep into Mexico.

At press time, FMCSA had granted authority to 27 Mexican carriers to operate 101 trucks in the United States, while 10 U.S. carriers had been granted authority to operate 52 trucks in Mexico. Hill said more carriers will participate once the uncertainty about the program’s future has been removed.

Last December, Congress attempted to end the cross-border program by passing legislation banning funding to “establish” such a thing. DOT interpreted this to mean it was barred only from starting a new program, not from continuing the current one. A federal lawsuit to stop the program is pending.
- Dean Smallwood


ATA fights restrictive ports policy
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach announced their Clean Trucks Program stays on schedule, despite an American Trucking Associations lawsuit against it.

The ATA filed a complaint July 28 for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The group charged that the Clean Trucks Program unlawfully re-regulates the industry by limiting port access to trucking companies in port-approved concession contracts.

“Despite this litigation, we are still moving full speed ahead toward our goal of reducing pollution from the truck fleet by 80 percent by 2012,” Long Beach Port Executive Director Richard Steinke said. To reduce fuel emissions, the ports gradually are barring older trucks from their premises while providing financial incentives for concessionaires to buy newer ones and retrofit others.

The Los Angeles port will require all truckers on the premises to be employees, not independent contractors, of licensed motor carriers that hold concessionaire agreements with the port. Exceptions will be allowed for owner-operators not regularly doing business with the port.

The ATA argues that the ports’ actions violate a federal statute that prohibits states or political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing any legal requirement “related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier.” The ports’ concessionaire agreements regulate truck maintenance, parking, employee wages and benefits, hiring practices, truck signage, recordkeeping, auditing, frequency of port service and sale or transfer of the motor carrier’s business.
- Jill Dunn


Cummins to add SCR for 2010
Cummins announced Aug. 13 that it will add selective catalytic reduction aftertreatment to its heavy-duty products for 2010.

As previously announced, Cummins’ heavy-duty 2007 ISX will serve as the basic 2010 engine platform. The SCR system will be integrated into an emissions package that includes cooled exhaust gas recirculation and other technologies.

Cummins says adding recent advancements in catalyst technology to its engines will provide customers with significant fuel economy improvements and meet the near-zero emissions levels required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 regulations. Cummins Emission Solutions, a provider of SCR systems, will supply integrated exhaust aftertreatment systems for Cummins heavy-duty and midrange engines.

The company says its decision to go with heavy-duty SCR engines to meet EPA-mandated 2010 emissions and NOx guidelines was made quickly, based on data establishing the superiority of new copper zeolite emissions technology compared to conventional iron zeolite technology commonly used. Zeolites act as molecular filtration systems.

Among the advantages of copper zeolite SCR systems, Cummins says, are improved heat rejection, lighter weight and fuel economy increases from 1 percent to 5 percent compared to other SCR- and EGR-equipped engines.

Cummins has more than 200,000 SCR-equipped engines running in heavy-duty commercial truck applications in Europe and will apply that knowledge in the development of its 2010 North American product lines, says Vice President Jeff Jones.

“The advantage of copper zeolite emissions technology was too compelling to ignore,” says Ed Pence, a Cummins vice president.

At least four other manufacturers – Daimler (Detroit Diesel), Paccar, Volvo and Mack – will use SCR. One other manufacturer, Navistar (International), says it will rely on high-pressure fuel injection systems to reduce NOx through enhanced cooled EGR, without an aftertreatment in heavy-duty applications. Cummins already had announced plans to use SCR in
medium-duty applications.

In June, Caterpillar announced that it would not supply engines to on-highway original equipment manufacturers in North America after 2009.
- Jack Roberts


New trucks, new fuel
Sterling Trucks will produce 400 liquefied natural gas trucks this year for a drayage company operating at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. As part of the federally funded Clean Trucks Program, ports and local and state governments plan to replace nearly 40,000 trucks built before 1990 with cleaner-burning alternatives. The Sterling SB 113 is powered by the Cummins Westport ISL G, an 8.9-liter exhaust gas recirculation engine. The engine cuts nitrogen oxide emissions by 85 percent over the previous Cummins Westport C Gas Plus natural gas engine. The new engine is available in ratings up to 320 hp.


Senators berate FMCSA, offer it more money
The Senate Appropriations Committee delivered a scathing report July 14 on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in its recommendations for 2009 funding – then recommended increasing the agency’s budget by $11 million.

“The FMCSA has shown a pattern of undermining its safety mission by proposing weak regulations and failing to provide adequate oversight and enforcement of existing regulations,” the committee stated.

Still, the committee recommended $541 million for next year’s FMCSA funding, $11.3 million more than that enacted last year and equal to the Bush administration’s budget request.

The committee observed that the agency had been criticized not only by senators but by the DOT Office of Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, the National Transportation Safety Board and the courts.

“The rules that FMCSA has proposed fail to achieve maximum safety benefits, and in some instances may undermine safety,” the committee stated. Lawsuits have forced the agency to revise hours-of-service rules, and a new hours rule has to be issued, it noted.

The report noted the inspector general had questioned FMCSA’s effectiveness in achieving industry compliance. Eleven of the inspector general’s recommendations for the agency are incomplete, and although the agency is working on a new commercial driver’s license rule, its slow progress is troubling, the report said.
- Jill Dunn


Hearing diagnoses medical certification as unfit
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is again in Congress’ hot seat, this time for oversight of medical certification for commercial drivers. At a July 24 hearing, U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, charged the agency with weak supervision of drivers’ medical qualifications and what he repeatedly referred to as the FMCSA’s “lack of will” to complete recommended safety improvements.

The medical-certification process for commercial drivers “is no more robust or effective than it was nearly 10 years ago,” Oberstar said. U.S. Rep. Pete DeFazio, D-Ore., called it “a totally failed system.”

House members noted that 25 states allow drivers to self-certify their own medical fitness and that the medical certificate was available for download on the FMCSA site, making it vulnerable to fraud.

Rose McMurray, FMCSA assistant administrator, testified that the issue of medical certifications is complicated and that the agency must be cautious that new rules aren’t an unfair burden on states and the trucking industry. “FMCSA maintains a rigorous enforcement program that, in conjunction with state and local partners, is supported by conducting compliance reviews and roadside inspections,” she said.

The hearing was in response to a Government Accountability Office report on the medical certification process, released July 21. Commercial drivers with serious medical conditions, such as the early stages of multiple sclerosis, can meet U.S. Department of Transportation requirements, the report found.

The GAO analysis found 4 percent of CDL holders in the DOT database, or 563,000 drivers, were determined eligible for full federal disability benefits. The 12 states analyzed, representing 135,000 of these drivers, showed 85 percent of that number had active licenses, and most were issued CDLs after federal approval of full disability benefits.
- Jill Dunn


DOT officials detail transportation plans
During a visit to the Elyria, Ohio, headquarters of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, the head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration repeated the Bush administration’s call to avoid fuel taxes as the primary revenue source for the cash-strapped Highway Trust Fund.

“Our federal approach to transportation is absolutely broken,” John Hill said. “And no amount of tweaking, adjusting or adding new layers on top will make things better.”

Hill outlined a plan, online at www.fightgridlocknow.gov, similar to a National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission proposal issued in January.

Hill called for several reforms:

  • Encouraging mass-transit use through congestion pricing in urban areas to begin the “long overdue process of weaning ourselves from the gas tax.”

  • Encouraging “road pricing,” or tolls, via public-private partnerships at the state level.
  • Consolidating the “102 transportation programs that have sprouted up over the past two decades” into eight core federal spending programs.
  • Changing the federal review process to speed up the average 13 years it takes to build a new highway or transit project.

Short Hauls
A TASK FORCE on Independent Contractor Reform was created July 16 by Iowa Gov. Chet Culver to consider changes in how companies classify their workers. “Employers who contribute to the local economy should not have to compete with those employers who choose to break the law by knowingly misclassifying their employees,” Culver said. The Teamsters union praised the action.

THE MERGER of XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio was approved by the Federal Communications Commission, 3-2, on July 25, shortly after the companies settled outstanding enforcement matters with the commission, including a $19 million “voluntary contribution” to the U.S. Treasury.

RECORD UREA PRICES in June put a financial squeeze on suppliers of AdBlue, the diesel emissions fluid used in Europe as a key component of selective catalytic reduction in many heavy-duty trucks, according to a report by the U.K. analysis firm Integer Research. DEF will be required for the SCR engines to be offered in 2010 by most major U.S. diesel engine suppliers, including Detroit Diesel, Paccar, Volvo and Cummins.

NEW YORK Gov. David Paterson’s May proposal to divert truck traffic off local roads and onto interstates statewide will waste fuel, add to the cost of consumer goods and increase carbon dioxide emissions, the New York State Motor Truck Association says. Today the round-trip haul from Syracuse to Corning Glass in Corning is 200 miles, whereas the proposed regulations would require the same truck to travel 292 miles.

ROADRUNNER Transportation Services Holdings announced that it had filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering of its common stock. Based in Milwaukee, the company provides truckload and less-than-truckload services via an owner-operator fleet formed from the merger of Roadrunner Freight Systems and Dawes Transport.

REPORTS RELATED to the interim hours-of-service rule have been released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which recommends comments be made as soon as possible. The agency published an interim hours rule Dec. 17, 2007, and says it is committed to issuing a final rule this year, before President Bush leaves office. Visit www.regulations.gov and search for docket number FMCSA-2004-19608.


HIGHWAY HAPPENINGS
IOWA. Severely damaged this summer by heavy Cedar River floods, Highway 1 between Solon and Mount Vernon has reopened.

NEW YORK. Only two lanes of I-86, one in each direction, are open from Exit 34 near Hornell to Exit 35 near Howard through November.

OREGON. A project to ease congestion across the I-5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver, Wash., referred to as the Columbia River Crossing, has received national priority status from the White House.

PENNSYLVANIA. Now that bald eagle fledglings have left their nest, work has begun on the Route 372 bridge over the Susquehanna River. Traffic restrictions can be expected 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. seven days a week through year’s end.

UTAH. Trucking-specific road construction information now can be found online at http://itruck.utah.gov.

VIRGINIA. To check I-77 traffic conditions during the ongoing work on the Big Walker Mountain and East River Mountain tunnels, call (866) 788-6635 or (866) 7-TUNNEL. Four-lane detours include Route 19 from Abingdon to Bluefield, W.Va., and Route 460 from Blacksburg to Princeton, W.Va.

WASHINGTON. Public opinion is being sought on tolls across Lake Washington to pay for a new Highway 520 bridge between Seattle and Bellevue. Comments can be posted at http://build520.org.

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