The six-year, $286.4 billion highway spending bill, touching on many trucking industry interests, received mixed reactions from industry groups.
President Bush signed the legislation in August.
“This bill funds vital new transportation projects, holds the line on gas taxes and avoids adding to the deficit,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. “More importantly for America’s drivers, this bill contains significant new safety provisions, including the creation of a $5 billion core highway safety program.”
America’s truck drivers, however, did not receive the mandatory fuel surcharge that had been considered for inclusion in the massive bill.
The American Trucking Associations takes some credit for blocking the surcharge, saying it would have increased consumer costs for everything shipped by truck.
The Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association supported establishment of a surcharge that would cover fuel costs over a $1.10 per gallon benchmark. The surcharge would have been paid by the shippers and passed along to the fuel buyers. The Truckload Carriers Association had also supported a surcharge.
ATA is unhappy that the bill does not write into statutory law the current hours-of-service rule, a strategy that had been sought by the U.S. Department of Transportation and many in the trucking industry. Barring another legislative extension, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will be forced to issue a revised regulation as required by a federal appeals court. FMCSA’s temporary reprieve from the court order runs out Sept. 30.
“We are disappointed that they failed to codify hours of service regulations as the administration requested,” said Bill Graves, the ATA president. “We remain concerned that Congress’ inaction on hours of service will negatively impact overall highway safety.”
The bill, however, did clarify the agricultural exemption to the hours regulations. The exemption would become permanent in federal law and define what agricultural commodities and farm supplies commercial transporters could use during the planting and harvesting season.
The bill defines “agricultural commodity” as any agricultural commodity, non-processed food, feed, fiber or livestock and insects. Farm supplies are any products that aid in the growing or harvesting of agricultural commodities during the planting and harvesting seasons within each state, or any livestock feed.
“It is imperative that commercial transporters of agricultural commodities have the flexibility to meet transportation demands during peak planting and harvesting seasons,” said Fletcher Hall, executive director of the Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference. AFTC is an affiliate of ATA.
Another key point of the bill funds programs for law enforcement agents to enforce traffic violations by other motorists around commercial trucks.
Also, the bill would set up a system where carriers could electronically check the safety records of prospective drivers.