Bringing Freight Into Focus

December 1, 2010

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Just when you think everyone at our nation’s capital has lost touch with our industry’s something happens that surprises you.  Just such an event occurred last week.

On September 30th, Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Cal, entered into the discussion regarding the federal highway program by introducing a new bill which would result in more efficient movement of goods, create jobs and help stimulate our economy.  Representative Richardson’s bill, The Freight is the Future of Commerce in the United States Action of 2010 (Freight FOCUS Act of 2010) (H.R. 6291) would  provide a mechanism for prioritizing freight planning and funding centered around a new Office of Freight Policy within the Department of Transportation.  In addition, the bill would allow for input from both the public and private sector and would fund improvement to our major trucking corridors.  The bill would also take steps to improve check points.

Rather than use money from the Highway Trust Fund to pay for projects, the bill calls for a $3,000,000,000.00 transfer from the general fund.  In addition, Rep. Richardson’s bill proposes a $0.12 increase on diesel fuel used for the movement of freight.  However, the bill leaves open the possibility of other forms of revenue.

Because Congress has a long history of ‘borrowing from Peter to pay Paul”, the Freight FOCUS Act of 2010 would take steps to make sure that funds paid by the trucking industry would actually be used for projects benefitting the trucking industry.  Specifically, the bill would create a Goods Movement Trust Fund which would fund grants to deserving projects across the nation.  
Another major provision of the bill is the creation of a National Freight Advisory Committee to allow the public and private sector to offer opinions on planning and which projects are to be funded.

Now I understand that no one wants to pay more taxes on fuel or increased “user fees”.  This belief was recently echoed by ATA President and CEO Bill Graves who said “[T]his legislation will go a long way toward addressing critical bottlenecks on our nation’s most important highway corridors.  These chokepoints cost the trucking industry tens of billions of dollars each year, and force trucks to waste a tremendous amount of fuel.  With Congresswoman Richardson’s help, we can begin to fix these problem areas, which will reduce shipping costs and lower emissions from all vehicles.” As Mr. Graves points out, one should not just focus on the additional taxes and user fees necessary to fund such an initiative, but should look at the bigger picture.  If this bill passes, it would eliminate many of the congestion issues plaguing our industry, save fuel and reduce emissions.  These items would only serve to benefit a carrier’s bottom line.  In addition, this would help our industry by reducing its “carbon footprint.”

Needless to say, shortly after the bill was introduced the ATA stated that it strongly supported Rep. Richardson’s bill.  In fact, the ATA views the increased diesel tax as an investment in the industry.  Darrin Roth, director of highway operations for the ATA said “[o]ur members have agreed to support a fuel tax increase that goes to fund the right projects that will give a return on investment.”   By reducing congestion, carriers will “save money by not sitting in traffic and risking late deliveries.”

When introducing her bill, Rep. Richardson said “[t]his is badly needed legislation that will improve the flow of goods across the country, create jobs through the construction of infrastructure and the enhanced national freight network and improve the economy.”  Rep. Richardson further added “[f]or decades the needs of our freight systems have been ignored and we need to act now in a comprehensive way to fix its failing, I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to move this legislation forward and get our goods and economy moving at full speed.”

I am realist.  I know that Congress has a tendency of turning good ideas into worse ideas with good intentions.  In fact, when I think of Congress I am reminded of the phrase that “a camel is just a horse that was designed by a committee.”  In this case, I truly hope that Congress will recognize the benefit the bill provides in its current form and let it leave committee in its current form.  
Since the bill’s introduction last week the American Trucking Association, the Waterfront Coalition, The Retail Industry Leaders Association and the Port of Long Beach have come out in support of this bill.  For a bill to have garnered such support in such a short time illustrates that a problem exists with our infrastructure and this bill will go a long way in addressing these issues.