Hours of Service stays, highway budget stalls

It was too much to expect that Congress would pass a new federal highway funding bill before November elections, and sure enough, they didn't. Not only is funding to be continued at present levels, but the bill authorizing the delay — and signed by President Bush — contains provisions that will keep the existing Hours of Service (HOS) regulations in force.

Speculation is that the new Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) funding bill might still be passed when this Congress returns after the elections. If not, the new Congress will have to begin all over again in the next session.

Old funding for transportation has been extended several times. Under the current plan, Congress has provided an eightmonth extension of that funding. Filled with plenty of federal pork for many running in this year's elections, TEA-21 has met consistent opposition from the White House because it is seen as too costly.

The HOS that went into effect at the beginning of the year have resulted in a chaotic situation for the transportation industry. A U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in July attempted to throw out the rules, based on its conclusion that the new rules did not adequately address truck driver fatigue. Rather than compel the industry to revert to the pre-2004 rules, though, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was able to keep the new HOS rules in place for the time being, in order to avoid confusion.

Now the Congress, under the same bill that extended transportation funding, is permitting the FMCSA to keep those current rules in place until September 30, 2005, or until the agency drafts new rules that answer the Court's objections — whichever comes first.

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