Recorder Rewind

Latest EOBR proposal buried in controversial spending package

The debate over electronic onboard recorders for trucks is back in headlines. This time the issue is part of a massive multi-billion-dollar transportation overhaul proposed by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure chairman.

While Oberstar wants to mandate EOBRs on all commercial vehicles as part of his Surface Transportation Authorization Act, a six-year, $500-billion replacement of the expiring 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act, it’s just a small part of a controversial package that guarantees a heated showdown with the White House.

The Obama administration favors an 18-month extension of the current highway reauthorization funding act in order to “deliberate the direction of America’s transportation priorities,” according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Oberstar and other House leaders who support the new plan say time is of the essence. “We don’t have time for 18 months. That puts a Damocles sword of uncertainty over the future of transportation. It is unacceptable,” Oberstar said in a June press conference with Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who is cosponsoring the bill. “We are not in the business of delay. You’ve had enough of that in your transportation experience.”

The proposal would provide $337 billion in funding for highway construction, $100 billion for public transit and $50 billion to build a nationwide high-speed rail system.

What may make the House committee proposal the most controversial for lawmakers is its price tag. It represents a 57 percent increase over the $286.5 billion bill approved in 2005. This includes $87 billion in highway trust fund money for transit and $12 billion in transit cash from the Treasury’s general fund. The 2005 bill gave transit less than $44 billion in highway trust fund money and $9 billion from the general fund.

With the current recession and trillions of dollars already allocated to address the economy, coupled with the Obama administration’s still-to-come battle over public health care, some are already questioning how it would be funded. Hints of higher fuel taxes and mileage-based user fees have surfaced as possible mechanisms for funding the proposal.

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Oberstar said in June he hopes to get his transportation overhaul package up for a vote before Congress goes on recess this month, but it seems unlikely this proposal will make much headway with all the obstacles in its path.

As for EOBRs, this is among numerous proposals floated over the years by various groups and politicians. In 2007, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advocated the use or recorders for the most serious hours-of-service violators. A final rule is yet to be made public.

EOBRs likely one day will become a reality for all truckers – not only for hours-of-service compliance but out of necessity for the industry to be more technologically efficient. That’s probably a good distance down the road.

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