Ag Policy Blog

Trucking Group Pushes Congress to Act on Infrastructure

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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A sinkhole on a rural highway. Rural infrastructure is one of the areas facing funding shortfalls right now. The American Trucking Associations is pushing for higher federal fuel taxes to fund road and bridge improvements. (DTN file photo)

The American Trucking Associations has launched a new campaign with television and digital ads over the next two months to highlight the need for more infrastructure investment in roads and bridges nationally.

"The decay of our roads and bridges simply can't wait any longer," said Chris Spear, president and CEO of ATA in a phone call with reporters Wednesday.

The campaign drive will begin in Washington, D.C., but also include other markets as the trucking association seeks to get Congress to pass an infrastructure bill with funding to address the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund.

Spear said the trucking industry loses $74.5 billion a year just in the amount of time truckers spend sitting in traffic delays or stoppages. The average commuter will spend $1,600 a year in wasted time, fuel or vehicle damage because of decayed roads as well.

ATA backs legislation that would increase federal fuel taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel 20 cents a gallon (five cents a year over a four-year period). That would generate $340 billion more in infrastructure spending.

"We believe this is a very sensible approach that really addresses immediate infrastructure needs, shores up the trust fund and doesn't add a dime to the deficit," Spear said.

Spear was asked about switching from a gas tax to a vehicle mileage tax. Because of cyber-security issues and privacy concerns, as well as collection, Spear said a vehicle mileage tax is just not an option at the moment to address crumbling roads and bridges.

"We believe the gas tax is the most conservative, immediate way to fund infrastructure," he said. Congress has to act on some sort of funding mechanism just to avoid a financial crisis with the Highway Trust Fund, Spear added, "They are going to have to do this this year just to avoid that cliff."

The federal tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents a gallon and 24.4 cents on diesel. They have remained flat since 1993.

A gas tax hike would also avoid adding more tolls around the country, which could become significantly more costly for truckers and drivers, but also have extensively more administrative costs than gas taxes.

A gas tax and highway bill would need approval from the House Ways & Means Committee as well as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, before going over to the Senate. Spear said he hope the House could act on legislation before summer begins to give the Senate time to digest the bill and the nation's infrastructure problems.

"The legislation hasn't been introduced yet, but that's the timeline for doing so," Spear said.

Spear also added that any legislation would need support from President Donald Trump, who has put forward his own infrastructure proposal that relies heavily on investment from states and private companies to generate revenue.

Regarding the politics of Congress raising gas taxes, Spear pointed out 23 states have raised their own fuel taxes in recent years with very little political push back.

"We just don't see this as a political threat to anyone," he said.

Spear did acknowledge there would be a block of votes in each chamber of Congress resistant to any legislation that raises taxes. "The fact is you have a contingency in both chambers who will not vote for new revenue," he said.

The White House proposal set aside a specific fund for rural America. Spear said legislation would look at big-ticket multi-state projects as well as funding local priorities such as road and bridges in rural areas.

The ATA's road commercial can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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