Senate OKs transportation bill

| March 14, 2012

The U.S. Senate today passed a two-year $109-billion transportation bill that includes funds for creating truck parking and an electronic onboard recorder mandate.

The bill, which passed 74-22, reduces the number of transportation programs by two-thirds and intends to accelerate project delivery by slicing through red tape. The bill creates a grant program that would leverage private resources for infrastructure projects.

An amendment will prevent highway tax money from going to privatized highways. Also, the bill excluded a provision to add new tolls to interstates.

Current funding levels will be maintained, although the depleted Highway Trust Fund for financing highway construction will get additional funds. The federal fuel tax will stay the same.

Other bill provisions include reform of freight brokerage rules study of truck crash-worthiness, an alcohol and drug clearinghouse, and testing of new truck drivers. The bill lets stand a federal law that prohibits sale of food and fuel at interstate rest areas.

Funds will be set aside for more truck parking, a cause advocated by family and supporters of Jason Rivenburg, who was murdered while parked at an abandoned gas station waiting to unload.

“While not perfect, the passing of this bill represents an important step forward in reforming our surface transportation programs back to where they belong, which is to focus on maintaining and improving our roads and bridges,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“This bill advances the cause of highway safety and takes a number of important steps toward reforming our transportation system,” American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said in a statement.

A transportation bill faces an uncertain future in the House, which is on recess this week. If the House is unable to pass its own transportation bill, it may be forced to consider the Senate version. Current funding expires March 31.

Since 2009, nine extensions have been made to keep transportation programs running while Congress wrestles with long-term funding reform.