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Witnesses at Capitol Hill hearing push lawmakers to move on infrastructure funding

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YRC Worldwide CEO Darren Hawkins, testifying on behalf of the American Trucking Associations, told a House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit that while the trucking industry is prepared to pay its share of the cost of improving highways, more reliance on tolls is not the answer. (Courtesy: HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES)

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Wednesday took dead aim at Washington political gridlock during a hearing before the Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, challenging many lawmakers’ assertions that a gas and diesel tax increase could cost them a seat in Congress.

Raising the gas and diesel tax is “not a partisan issue out there in America, it just seems to be a partisan issue here in Washington, D.C.,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said during opening remarks at a subcommittee hearing on “Pricing and Technology Strategies to Address Congestion on and Financing of America’s Roads.”

Also at the hearing, a representative of the American Trucking Associations assailed attempts to use tolling as a funding source, and an official from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTTI) said diversity could be an answer to help alleviate the nation’s crunch on the nation’s highways.

“The cost of congestion on an annual basis is about four times our federal investment in surface transportation and transit,” DeFazio testified. “Just think about that. We’re wasting four times as much money as we’re investing on an annual basis year after year after year. But around here we’re paralyzed. We can’t figure out how we’re going to pay for this.”

Without saying so directly, DeFazio’s testimony centered around a gas and diesel tax increase as a foremost solution.

Addressing lawmakers who are reluctant to raise the tax, DeFazio issued what might be taken as a challenge.

“You think you’re going to lose your election if gas goes up one and a half cents a gallon?” DeFazio asked. “When you drove to work today, you drove by the gas station and the price probably went up a nickel or down a nickel on the digital sign. No one’s going to notice that. And people around the country have shown that they are willing to pay to get out of congestion. Congress hasn’t gotten the message.”

DeFazio, who has represented Oregon’s Fourth Congressional District since 1987, took on the current administration.

“The White House hasn’t got the message,” he said. “They love to talk about a big infrastructure bill — we were up to $2 trillion for three weeks, and then we were down to zero.

In fact, the proposals in the president’s budget consistently cut transportation investment.

Testifying on behalf ATA, YRC Worldwide CEO Darren Hawkins urged lawmakers to put the brakes on the spread of tolls.

“While the trucking industry is willing to pay its fair share for infrastructure improvement, we believe that tolls are not the right solution, and in fact can be very harmful to our industry, our customers and ultimately, to consumers,” Hawkins testified.

Hawkins cited inefficiencies in toll collection, traffic diversion and misdirection of toll funds as significant problems with tolling when compared to other financing methods.

“Tolling has very high collection costs relative to other highway user fees,” he said. “While the cost of collection has come down with the introduction of transponders, costs can still exceed 10 percent. On some major toll facilities, these costs are much higher. On the Ohio Turnpike, for example, 19 cents out of every dollar is spent collecting tolls, while the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s collection costs exceed 20 percent. Contrast this with the 0.2 percent cost of collecting federal fuel taxes.

“Clearly, the waste that goes into collecting a toll is simply unacceptable when far more efficient alternatives are available. Our user fees should be used to build roads, not toll road bureaucracies,” he said.

Hawkins also warned that because of federal funding shortfalls, states are abusing tolls to fund other projects at the expense of toll payers, particularly the trucking industry.

“Federal law allows states to shift excess toll revenue to any Title 23 eligible purpose,” he said. “This results in toll payers bankrolling projects that they may not benefit from. In addition, because the vast majority of roads can’t support tolls, a small minority of motorists can be saddled with the subsidization of a state’s surface transportation system, regardless of whether the toll payers benefit.”

Because tolls are only a potential solution for a handful of projects, Hawkins urged Congress to do more to fund infrastructure so states aren’t forced to look to tolling or other riskier financing methods.

“It is important to note that tolls will not solve the most important challenge facing this subcommittee — the impending bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund. Failure to address the shortfall will continue to induce states to consider bad options like tolls,” he said. “ATA and nearly every organization that cares about surface transportation efficiency has proposed an increase in the fuel tax to address these needs, and we urge your support.”

Timothy Lomax, research fellow at TTTI, called for a balanced and diversified approach to reduce congestion, one that focuses on more of everything; more policies, programs, projects, flexibility, options and understanding.

“It is clear that the solution investments have not kept pace with the problems,” he said. “Most urban regions have big problems now — more congestion, poorer pavement and bridge conditions and less public transportation than they would like.”

Lomax cited some ideas:

  • Get as much as possible from what we have. “‘Get the best bang for the buck’ is the theme here,” Lomax said. “Many low-cost improvements have broad public support and can be rapidly deployed.”
  • Provide choices. “‘Customize your trip’ might involve different travel routes, departure times, travel modes or lanes that involve a toll for high-speed and reliable service,” he said. “These

options allow travelers and shippers to make trips when, where and in a form that best suits their needs and wants.”

  • Add capacity in critical corridors. “We just need more in some places. Increases in freight and person movement often require new or expanded facilities.”
  • Diversify the development patterns. “Everyone doesn’t want to live in — fill in the blank — is a discussion in most urban regions. It is always true, because there is no one-size-fits-all home type.”
  • Realistic expectations. “Large urban areas will be congested,” Lomax said. “Some locations near key activity centers in smaller urban areas will also be congested.”

Others testifying at the hearing included Miami Gardens, Florida, Mayor Oliver Gilbert III, who is also chairman of the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization; Travis Brouwer, assistant director for public affairs for the Oregon Department of Transportation; Tilly Chang, executive director, San Francisco County Transportation Authority, testifying on behalf of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America; and Marc Scribner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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  1. tom coen

    September 17, 2019 at 9:01 am

    Nonsense. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore, is a partisan Democrat hack from the one of the most liberal states in the nation. Feds and States waste more tax dollars than ever. It is very much a “we the people” against the swamp dwellers in Washington DC. Cut spending from the bloat and waste in the federal budget. You know how I know DeFazio is lying?, the D, after his name. There isn’t a democrat out there that doesn’t want 110% of our paychecks and wealth to redistribute.

    Trucker.com, try harder. Lets get a competing political perspective. You all are either ignorant or complicit with the swamp in DC.

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The Nation

Lane Departures: Why would California lawmakers saddle trucking with the ABC test?

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Well, he said he’d do it.

If you look elsewhere on this website, you’ll see a story I did about a week ago about AB5, a bill passed by the California Senate on September 10 into the waiting arms of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who had long telegraphed he was looking forward to signing it.

Yesterday, he did it. And come the new year, trucking is going to have to live with it.

AB5 — the full name is the “Employees and Independent Contractors” bill — is ostensibly intended to prevent employers from exploiting workers and skirting expenses by relying on “independent contractors” to make their businesses run instead of hiring full-fledged employees, who come with all kinds of nasty baggage like guaranteed minimum wages, overtime and payroll taxes, mandatory breaks, insurance and other horrific profit reducers.

The bill got off the ground in the wake of a court case last year in which a delivery company called Dynamex was determined to have improperly reclassified its workers as independent contractors in order to save money.  In making the decision, the court applied what is known as the ABC test, which presumes all workers should be classified as employees unless they meet three criteria.

Like the court case, the bill, which will codify the ABC test across the state, seems to have been at least in spirit aimed at companies like Dynamex that are part of that there so-called “gig economy” all the young folks are so hopped up about. Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft are almost always mentioned as Public Enemies 1A and 1B of supposed independent contractor charlatans.

The problem with AB5, its critics say, is it proposes to perform an appendectomy with a chainsaw, ripping into industries that have long-established business models that extensively use independent contractors to the satisfaction of all involved.

A great big example would be trucking, because it appears the ABC test would prevent carriers from contracting with owner-operators or smaller fleets in California. I’ll let you imagine the consequences if that’s true.

If you’ve read the article, or your planning to read the article, I’d like to apologize in advance because as I’ve been learning about this AB5 business, I have some lingering questions that I could not answer. I have calls out to a couple of experts on the legal and logistical nuances. Unfortunately, experts don’t observe journalistic deadlines.

But then, I figured, this story is going to be around a while, so we can keep building on what we know. I may have answers to some of these questions by the time you read this. Or maybe you will be able to provide some of the answers. I mean, you don’t need to have a title or a degree or be part of a think tank to know a thing or two.

My first question is this: They didn’t pull this ABC test out of thin air. A majority of states already use the test in some manner on matters of job status. California’s application of ABC is based on Massachusetts’ broad, strict use of the test. So, hasn’t trucking had to contend with this standard there and in in other states already? I haven’t heard reports of empty store shelves in Massachusetts. Is there some simple workaround already in existence just waiting for cooler heads to prevail?

Second, from what I gather, ABC has had its critics for as long as it’s existed. Is it just the sheer size of California’s economy that makes this case so important or somehow different?

I’m going to go way out on a limb and say “probably.” Last year, California’s economy outgrew that of Great Britain. If it were an independent country, California would have the fifth-largest economy in the world. And what happens in California rarely stays in California. The state has a major influence on the rest of the nation.

California’s economy is closing in on $3 trillion a year. Real estate, finance, the entertainment industry and that nest of tech behemoths in Silicon Valley are responsible for big chunks of that.

And let’s not forget agriculture. California ranches and farms reaped $50 billion in receipts in 2017. That’s a lot of food, a lot of truckloads.

California also has some of the nation’s largest seaports. The Port of Long Beach alone sees about $200 billion in cargo a year, with 11,000 truckloads leaving the port each day. And most of what doesn’t go by truck from there eventually winds up on a truck somewhere inland.

Add it all up, and trucking is a huge player in the California economic machine. Why would lawmakers want to strip its gears with this law? Some lawmakers are even on record saying they are worried about what this could do to the industry. Then why are they doing it?

The bill’s sponsor, Democrat Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, is not some gung-ho rookie lawmaker. She’s in her third term, and she already has made a national name for herself as a champion of the working class with several pieces of legislation she has supported.

AB5 could fit into that collection quite nicely. But it isn’t a trophy she needs in a hurry. She won her last two reelection campaigns by about a 3-1 margin.

And she’s also been around enough that she surely understands that despite its best intentions, the broad-stroke, one-size-fits-all approach AB5 takes will do more harm than good to many industries, including trucking.

In fact, she’s as much as said so. Gonzalez has already indicated that once the bill becomes law, she’d be open to making amendments and granting exemptions.

So why wait? The bill already grants exemptions to real estate, to doctors and dentists. Even newspaper delivery people got a last-minute, one-year exemption.

The California Trucking Association and the Western States Trucking Association pushed for an exemption. Dozens of truck drivers testified in Sacramento. And you have to think state legislators are at least vaguely aware of what goes on in their own districts.

So, they could grasp the importance of the guy who throws a newspaper in their driveway from a passing car at 4 a.m., but not of the people who deliver, like, everything everywhere all the time?

We all know how long fixing bad legislation can take. Even if they put it on the “fast track,” how much damage will occur before trucking can get an exemption?

I did hear back from one legal expert on the matter. Greg Feary, president and managing partner at Scopelitus, Garvin, Light, Hansen and Feary LLC, said there are a couple of cases in Ninth Circuit Court that could spell relief for the trucking industry. Even so, the legal system can move almost as slowly as the legislative system. He estimates California truckers are going to have to live with AB5 for at least a year.

Questions abound. I’m not looking forward to some of the answers.

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The Nation

Trucking submarine style in Texas

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Texas is getting hit hard with flooding.  This takes it to new levels!


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The Nation

Flooding in Texas – That cab’s gonna be a bit damp!

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KHOU reporter Melissa Correa happened to be on scene and captured this video.  Another motorist grabbed a hammer and rope and saved the drivers life.

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