Foxx sends Obama highway bill to Congress, trucking groups unhappy with tolling measures

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The Obama administration’s transportation funding plan has officially made its way to Congress, as Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx unveiled the four-year, $302 billion plan April 29. Trucking interests, however, are not impressed, taking particular issue with the bill’s giving states the authority to toll existing Interstates and with an expanded share of funding for transit and rail programs.

“Failing to act before the Highway Trust Fund runs out is unacceptable – and unaffordable,” Foxx said. “This proposal offers the kind of job creation and certainty that the American people want and deserve.”

The GROW AMERICA Act — Generating Renewal, Opportunity and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America — will prop up the Highway Trust Fund and rely on business tax reform to generate money for infrastructure projects, Foxx says.

The secretary also touts the 350-page bill’s aim to add jobs to the U.S. economy, address aging roads and bridges, help state and local governments plan more long-term projects, boost efficient freight networks and address regional economic needs.

A spokesman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said the leadership was still reviewing the proposed bill, but noted “many concerns,” including tolling and allowing toll revenues to be used for costs other than highways and bridges.

The American Trucking Associations also expressed disapproval for the bill, saying it is “disappointed” by it, especially coming from President Obama – who “has talked more about the need to address our critical infrastructure deficit than any president in the past 20 years,” the ATA news release notes.

“Any proposal that moves away from a user-fee funded transportation system is not going to be acceptable to the American trucking industry, period,” President and CEO Bill Graves said. “Furthermore, we have real questions about the viability of the administration’s plan to use one-time proceeds from an unspecified and unlikely to pass corporate tax reform idea, along with inefficient highway tolling or private capital financing.”

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ATA calls for a focus on “real, long-term funding answers” rather than “looking for the proverbial ‘nickels in the couch cushions.’”

“It is clear that this administration is aiming to hijack the Highway Trust Fund and convert it into a fund to finance a myriad of projects to benefit interests that do not pay user fees into the fund,” added ATA Executive Vice President Dave Osiecki.

While trucks move nearly 70 percent of all U.S. freight, the administration proposal uses the words “truck,” “trailer” or “motor carrier” just 91 times, while referencing “train” or “rail” a remarkable 518 times, ATA points out.

“Even more disheartening, the only reference to trucking in the administration’s announcement is a proposal by the Department of Transportation to impose a one-size-fits-all compensation model on an incredibly diverse industry – an extraordinarily misguided proposal for a department that claims to be data-driven,” Osecki said.

The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates likewise blasted the bill.

“The option for states to place tolls on existing interstate capacity has existed for 23 years and not a single state has used tolls in this way – not just because the idea is unpopular, but because it’s bad policy,” said Miles Morin, spokesman for ATFI. “Tolling existing interstates is inefficient, causes traffic diversion, and increases supply chain costs that hurt businesses and consumers. Transportation infrastructure needs improvements, but of all the ways to fund them, tolling existing interstates is the worst.”

Not surprisingly, the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association applauded the tolling language in the bill, calling it “a bold step.”

“In releasing their proposal today, Secretary Foxx and the administration recognize the importance of giving states the maximum amount of flexibility to use all appropriate funding and financing tools to meet their 21st century funding challenges,” said Patrick Jones, executive director and CEO of IBTTA. “Now is the time to incorporate new and innovative ways to fund our nation’s transportation needs. Today’s administration proposal opens the door for state governments to take advantage of all the tools in the toolbox to meet their local transportation funding needs.”

The DOT has provided summaries of the freight provisions in the bill along with the plan for highways and bridges, and a 100-page section-by-section analysis. The full bill is here.

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