LaHood discusses HOS, transportation funding, and cross-border trucking in SMC3 keynote
January 21, 2011 - LM Editorial
In a wide-ranging speech at the SMC3 Winter Conference in Atlanta this week United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood provided an overview of various elements of the domestic transportation landscape from the White House’s perspective.
Leading off his speech, LaHood cited the importance and relevance of freight transportation and logistics and supply chain professionals in “keeping the economy moving and keeping the country connected.”
And keeping these sectors strong and healthy, said LaHood, is among President Obama’s and the Department of Transportation’s highest priorities.
“That is why this Administration has provided a bold vision for the future of America’s infrastructure,” said LaHood. “And that is why…the DOT is working to keep America safe through various federal regulations and fulfilling its obligations under NAFTA to keep trade flowing with our neighbors to the south and the President’s commitment to doubling U.S. exports by 2015.”
At a time when future long-term federal surface transportation has been in a state of flux and been kept afloat due to a series of continuing resolutions since it expired on September 30, 2009, LaHood emphasized that shipping and logistics will comprise a “major part” of the Administration’s plan for a robust six-year authorization bill.
“This legislation will include an upfront $50 billion investment to help employ nearly one in five construction workers that are still out of a time at a time when many roads and bridges we use every day have fallen into disrepair,” said LaHood. “It will include support for a national high speed rail network, and investments in tracks and trains don’t just give passengers more travel options; they improve existing rail infrastructure for freight cars and ease congestion for trucks.”
LaHood said that in the last two years, the Federal Government has allocated significant funding to freight railroads to improve tracks as part of implementing high speed rail in the U.S., adding that this work benefits the freight transportation business.
He also highlighted the fact that $48 billion was spent on infrastructure projects through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with $28 billion going towards roads and bridges.
“President Obama’s transportation bill will include support for a national infrastructure bank, a fund of money that does not currently exist and it would be set aside for big road and bridge projects and leverage private investment dollars and finance transportation innovation on a national and regional scope, which means more projects for freight transportation and logistics professionals to serve [shippers],” said LaHood.
While there is now a new political landscape following the 2010 mid-term elections with Republicans leading the House of Representatives, LaHood observed that in the past transportation policy has been one of the legislative initiatives where members of both parties joined together for a common good.
He took it a step further, citing his six years as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, working on two transportation bills, which both passed in the House with more than 300 votes each time.
“This means that Democrats and Republicans came together, because I believe that transportation is one of the most bipartisan issues in Washington,” commented LaHood. “There are no Republican or Democratic roads or bridges. What we do in transportation benefits all Americans irrespective of party of political philosophy. If past is prologue, then I believe that Congress in a bipartisan way can pass a bipartisan transportation bill this year. Our goal and the White House’s goal is to have a bill passed and signed by the August recess. We need a bill to put people to work and to fix our crumbling infrastructure. I am optimistic because of what has happened in past Congress’ in a bipartisan way.”
On the regulatory front, LaHood cited the recently-revised Hours-of-Service (HOS) rules to give truck drivers the opportunity and right to rest. This proposal has been lambasted by industry stakeholders whom maintain that the current rules are working effectively and don’t need to be curtailed. Another issue is that of a pending requirement for Electronic On Board Recorders to be installed in all Class 8 trucks.
Not missing from LaHood’s comments was insight regarding the United States-Mexico cross-border trucking program, which has been under a huge amount of scrutiny.
As LM has previously reported, the U.S.-Mexico cross-border trucking program has seen more than a few bumps in the road in recent years. In 2009, the pilot program for cross-border trucking was eliminated as part of the White House’s $410 billion Omnibus Appropriations Act, H.R. 4105. Even through this program-killing measure was approved, that Obama administration said it would work to create a new cross-border, long distance trucking program between the U.S. and Mexico. Soon after the program was eliminated, the Mexican government said it would place tariffs on roughly 90 American agricultural and manufactured exports as payback for the U.S. decision to shutter the program.
These tariffs amount to $2.4 billion of American goods, ranging from fruit juices to pet food to deodorant, among others, ranging from 10 percent to 45 percent, with affected products coming from 40 states
Earlier this month, LaHood shared “an initial concept document” with members of Congress for a long-haul cross-border Mexican trucking program. This document prioritizes safety while satisfying the United States’ international obligations.
“This [program] is the law, and it is part of NAFTA,” said LaHood. “We have to do it, and when it was suspended by Congress, I met with more than 30 members of Congress to tell them we need to get this going again. Every member talked about safety, as did trucking groups and unions. Our proposal addresses a lot of the safety issues, and now a team of DOT safety officials are meeting with Mexican officials to flesh out a final proposal, because we have to under NAFTA.”
LaHood said it is likely there will be a final agreement by mid-year for the cross-border trucking program, adding that there is pent-up demand from both Mexico and the U.S. to get a final plan in place. He added that this new plan was done without input from the Mexican government and was based largely on feedback from Congress and industry stakeholders.
For more articles on the Department of Transportation and Ray LaHood, click here.
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