CONGRESS PASSES FIVE-YEAR HIGHWAY REAUTHORIZATION BILL
Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) announced an agreement on a conference report for a Five-Year Reauthorization of the Highway Bill yesterday.
Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) announced an agreement on a conference report for a Five-Year Reauthorization of the Highway Bill yesterday. The FAST Act includes several TRALA supported provisions including a report on minimum insurance levels for motor carriers, rental recall guidelines, and it does not expand the tolling of existing interstate highways. While TRALA was pleased to see these provisions included in the final bill, TRALA was very disappointed that negotiators failed to correct the meal and rest break requirements for interstate carriers operating in California.
The conference report adopts the House language regarding the Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program, which allows three states to place tolls on existing interstate. While TRALA would prefer for Congress to end this program which has never been implemented, the conferees create parameters for the three current states enrolled in the program to either come up with a plan or be removed from the pilot program. TRALA was pleased that the program was not expanded to include additional states. Currently Missouri, Virginia, and North Carolina are enrolled in the program and TRALA has learned that six to seven other states would like to enroll if a slot opens up.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has said that they will issue a rule on Minimum Financial Responsibilities (MFR) to increase the mandated minimum insurance carriers must carry to operate legally. FMCSA has stated that it plans to not only increase the MFR on for-hire motor carriers, but also to publish another rule impacting private carriers for the first time. Because of the nature of the industry, TRALA has lobbied FMCSA to remove rented and leased vehicles from the eventual rule given the fact that TRALA customers who operate the vehicles already would have to purchase the increased insurance premiums. With that said, the conference report included TRALA-supported language which requires the FMCSA to perform a study on insurance levels and the impact raising these levels would have on increasing safety and on motor carriers themselves. Additionally, the report included a section requiring the FMCSA to study the differences between federal and state insurance levels.
The final highway bill also included guidelines for rental companies to follow when they have vehicles which are under a safety recall. This will affect rental companies which rent an average of more than 35 vehicles per year and which weigh 10,000 lbs. or less to give notice of the recall to all operators of their vehicles within 24 hours. Owners of large fleets which have 5,000 vehicles or more will have 48 hours to notify each operator of the recall. In addition to the weight threshold, the final bill also has TRALA-requested language allowing for temporary fixes to be done to the vehicle if a permanent fix to the problem is not immediately available.
Despite a strong vote of support in the House, language which stated that states cannot set their own rules regarding meal and rest breaks for trucks operating in Interstate Commerce was rejected by the negotiators in large part due to the opposition of Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Boxer is an important conferee that Republican negotiators felt they needed in order to get other Democrats to vote in favor of the entire reauthorization package. TRALA and its allies pushed hard for Members to keep this provision in the final bill and will look at other congressional avenues in the coming months to try to fix this growing problem.
In addition to these provisions, the final highway bill includes the following:
- A new $4.5 billion grant program for significant highway and freight projects
- A fuel economy credit for natural gas vehicles to fully reflect the benefits of bi-fuel vehicles and allow automakers to use a higher factor for natural gas operation when calculating fuel economy beginning in 2016 vs. 2019 which is current law
- A requirement that FMCSA commission a study of the CSA program to evaluate if scores actually predict crash risk
- An exemption for veterans with truck driving experience from the CDL skills test and to provide credit for military training to meet CDL requirements