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Trucking industry presses for highway funding fix

Trucking industry presses for highway funding fix
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The American Trucking Association said Tuesday that it is willing to accept a short-term transportation funding bill to prevent an interruption in the federal government’s infrastructure spending. 

The current transportation funding measure is scheduled to expire on May 31, and lawmakers are struggling to come up with a way to pay for an extension. 

ATA President Bill Graves said he would prefer a longer extension than the potential three- and six-month patches that are being floated by lawmakers, but he said it was important for Congress to not allow the infrastructure funding to run out. 

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“The trucking industry moves nearly 70 percent of our nation’s freight tonnage and pays for nearly half of the Highway Trust Fund, so we have a lot of skin in this game,” Graves said in a statement. “We’re willing to pay more at the pump to help Congress get a long-term solution for our infrastructure across the finish line in 2015. Our elected leaders should stop considering a lengthy delay that will certainly prevent passage of a long-term bill this year and vote to keep the highway program going through the summer while they craft a serious piece of long-term legislation.”

The transportation funding debate has loomed large in Washington as the deadline draws closer without the introduction of legislation to prevent an interruption in the infrastructure spending. 

The expiring measure is itself an extension of a 2012 transportation bill that was supposed to last until September 2014. That measure was a $109 billion bill that was supposed to cover two years' worth of transportation projects, but it was extended for eight months by lawmakers last summer. 

Lawmakers in both parties have expressed a desire to pass a new transportation funding bill now that the bill is coming due again, but consensus on how to pay for it has been elusive. 

The traditional source of transportation funding has been revenue from the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and has struggled to keep pace with construction costs as U.S. cars have become more fuel efficient. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in about $34 billion annually at its current rate. Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the gap, but transportation advocates have complained the resulting temporary patches are preventing states from undertaking badly needed large construction projects. 

The trucking industry and other transportation advocates have pushed Congress to increase the tax for the first time in two decades to pay for a long-term infrastructure funding extension, but lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump. 

ATA First Vice Chairman Pat Thomas said the trucking industry is “very concerned about our ability to pass a highway bill that leads us into the 21st Century. 

“We need Congress to pass a short-term patch and then immediately take into consideration a long-term highway bill,” said Thomas, who is also a vice president at UPS. “A five- or six-year bill that will provide the additional capacity that we need in this economy. We can’t afford any further delay.”

The Department of Transportation has said that its Highway Trust Fund will have to stop making payments to state governments for construction projects that are already underway if Congress does not come to an agreement on an extension in the next couple of weeks.