The trucking industry is concerned the impasse in Washington over highway reauthorization may stretch into several years without a new spending bill to set planning for important road and infrastructure projects.
"There is speculation that there won't be reauthorization in the entire first term of the Obama administration," American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves told the Los Angeles Transportation Club.
With the Highway Trust Fund "insolvent," and both Democrats and Republicans fearful of the political consequences of approving an increase in the fuel tax, the nation could be heading toward an infrastructure crisis now that freight volumes are once again growing, Graves said.
Congress extended the previous highway spending bill 12 times before approving the current bill. The current program, known as SAFETEA-LU, expired on Sept. 30, 2009, and has since been extended a half-dozen times. The latest extension authorizes spending until Dec. 31, 2010.
It was obvious that Congress wanted to put off any tax increases to fund a costly highway appropriation bill until after the mid-term elections, but by pushing reauthorization into next year, Congress may be setting the stage for the delay to extend until after the 2012 presidential election year, Graves said.
The most effective solution to funding the nation's infrastructure needs is to increase the fuel tax, and the trucking industry supports this approach, Graves said. Elected officials in Washington, however, appear fearful of the political consequences of an increase in the tax.
If there is no reauthorization bill relatively soon, and if an increase in the federal fuel tax is off the table, individual states may decide to address their pressing infrastructure needs with their own taxes or tolls.
This scenario can also be problematic. When Washington does get around to authorizing a new spending bill, those states that have funded their own highway improvements may be unwilling to support a federal bill, Graves said.
The ATA president said transportation interests from all of the modes are working together better than ever for the good of the national freight network. That means that relations between two formerly antagonistic associations -- the ATA and the Association of American Railroads -- are "as good as they have ever been."
"The Hatfield and McCoy days are over," he said.
ATA has also improved relations with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Earlier this year, Graves questioned LaHood's emphasis on taking polluting trucks off the road by encouraging greater use of intermodal rail.
In a subsequent letter to ATA, the transportation secretary indicated that he wanted to promote both forms of freight transportation. Graves agreed that the economic pie will be so large that there will be enough freight for both industries.
-- Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at email@example.com.