Trucking execs are talking about addressing infrastructure woes. Is Congress listening?

How many times can high-powered transportation executives make the case to Congress that increasing infrastructure investment is vital to our nation’s economic competitiveness? Apparently, that is, and has been, a question without a true answer. But that does not mean the freight transportation and logistics sectors will stop making logical sense in pleading their cases to an ostensibly illogical Congress.

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How many times can high-powered transportation executives make the case to Congress that increasing infrastructure investment is vital to our nation’s economic competitiveness?

Apparently, that is, and has been, a question without a true answer. But that does not mean the freight transportation and logistics sectors will stop making logical sense in pleading their cases to an ostensibly illogical Congress.

When one things about it that way, the phrase “history never repeats” really does not hold water, when it comes to actually making things better on the transportation infrastructure front, at least not yet anyway.

In any event, though, that by no means suggests that efforts by industry leaders to educate or “show Congress the light” are futile. That was evident in comments made to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security by Derek Leathers, president and CEO of Werner Enterprises, and Mike Ducker, president and CEO of FedEx Freight.

In their respective testimonies, both executives stressed that more funding is needed in United States roads and bridges in order for the trucking industry to be able to safely and efficiently move goods throughout the country.

“Our highways, bridges, and roads are the lifeblood of the trucking industry,” Leathers said. “Unfortunately, the current infrastructure system increasingly feels the strain of long-term underinvestment at all levels of government. Nearly one-third of major urban roadways are in substandard condition, and the average motorist in the United States is losing $523 annually -- $112 billion nationally -- in additional vehicle operating costs as a result of driving on roads that are in need of repair.”

Not surprisingly, one way to boost badly needed infrastructure investment is through raising the federal fuel tax, something Leathers has ardently campaigned for over the years, with this week’s hearing no exception.

Supporting federal investment in highways primarily through user fees i.e. fuel taxes on the beneficiaries of the system i.e. anyone driving on highways, with the revenue source being: efficient and inexpensive to pay and collect; Have a low evasion rate; Be tied directly to highway use; and Avoid creating impediments to interstate commerce, explained Leathers.

“Werner believes fuel taxes meet all of these criteria and we support an increase in, and indexation of, the federal fuel tax,” he said. “The fuel tax is the most efficient revenue source, and increasing it will produce no additional collection costs and minimal evasion. Indexing can limit the negative revenue impacts of inflation and improved vehicle fuel efficiency.”

There is also that pesky fact that federal fuel taxes have remained unchanged from current levels going back to 1993 at 24.4 cents on diesel and18.4 cents on gasoline.

The fuel tax was not the sole topic addressed by Leathers. He also went into detail things like addressing the driver shortage, improving highway safety, investing in freight bottlenecks and congestion that impacts efficient movement for both freight and passenger travel.

FedEx Freight’s Ducker was equally blunt, explaining that “every day we are all reminded of the unfortunate state of disrepair of our nation’s highways and bridges, as well as the lost productivity for businesses and individuals caused by traffic congestion.”

Citing the “DOT Released 30-year Freight projection” from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which pegs freight volume increasing by 45 percent by 2015, Ducker laid out a vision for what is needed to meet that growth.

“In order to address these challenges, we must work together on policy and solutions that will modernize our surface transportation system and drive our economy forward,” he said. “Infrastructure investment cannot be limited to road and bridge improvements. A holistic modern transportation system needs to be established combining physical and digital infrastructure enhancements with sound transportation policies, including incentives for improved safety and fuel efficiency. And, of course, stable and sustainable sources of funding for the Highway Trust Fund will be essential for success.”

At a time when the cards are truly on the table for setting the future course of transportation infrastructure, Congress, and the White House, with its lack of detailed $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan, needs to be “all in” on the input offered up by leading industry executives like Leathers and Ducker to put the U.S. on firmer footing for freight going forward.


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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