Highway bill finally goes through

The long-delayed highway bill finally became a reality when President Bush signed the $286 billion legislation. One major piece of good news for logistics professionals is that a fuel surcharge provision was dropped from the final bill. This provision would have required the imposition of fuel surcharges set by the Department of Transportation, a move that Logistics Today readers appear to oppose by a 2:1 margin (see chart below).

However, although there is much to celebrate in the passage of the highway bill, Peter Ruane, president of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) (www.artba.org), describes the bill in two words: missed opportunity.

"It's a status quo piece of legislation," he states, "a band-aid on the system." While the total budget represents a record amount of funding for transportation, Ruane believes most of the budget process was nothing more than "a big food fight, especially by the so-called 'donor states' who didn't think they were getting their fair share."

According to Ruane, "Congress has recognized the current revenue stream to the Highway Trust Fund is not sufficient to meet the federal government's responsibilities in transportation. The bill mandates the creation of a bipartisan, 'blue ribbon' commission to identify the best ways to finance federal transportation investments post-2009. The importance of the commission effort cannot be overstated if America is to meet its highway and transit challenges."

Speaking at a recent National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) committee meeting, Ruane added, "What's really needed to move the needle is for the transportation industry to get involved in fixing some of the problems."

One disappointment in the bill, according to Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations (www.truckline.org), is the failure of Congress "to codify Hours of Service regulations as the Administration requested." Although the ATA is overall pleased with the new 2005 HOS rules (see cover story), the uncertainty over whether these new rules will withstand another court challenge, should it come, underscores how much easier life would be for carriers and private fleet operators if the HOS had been written into law.

The NITL (www.nitl.org) is concerned that the highway bill requires freight forwarders and brokers to register with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). There is a fear that this action might eliminate the requirement for brokers and forwarders (other than household goods) to carry minimum levels of insurance and bonds.

"The two biggest issues shippers will have to contend with over the coming years will be capacity and security," adds John Ficker, president of the NITL. The highway bill funds numerous programs designed to build new roads or improve existing infrastructure; whether that funding proves to be adequate to meet the country's growing capacity needs will be determined as the programs roll out.

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