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The Nation

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

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Witnesses at capitol hill hearing push lawmakers to move on infrastructure funding
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 Comment

1 Comment

  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

Minnesota Trucking Association names Scott Post as 2019 driver of the year

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Minnesota trucking association names 2019 driver of the year
Scott Post, a contract truck driver for FedEx Ground, has been selected as the Minnesota Driver of the Year by the Minnesota Trucking Association. Post has been driving a truck for 41 years and has more than 2.5 million safe miles. (Courtesy: Minnesota Trucking Association)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — The Minnesota Trucking Association named Maplewood, Minnesota resident, Scott Post, a professional truck driver contracted for FedEx Ground in St. Paul, Minnesota, as the 2019 Minnesota Driver of the.

“This award is a great way to honor the best in our industry. Driving safe is no easy task, especially when you take into consideration his daily driving conditions like congestion, driver distractions and Minnesota winters. Having 2.5 million safe driving miles is an outstanding accomplishment,” said John Hausladen, MTA president. “We’re proud to award Scott for this achievement.”

Post is employed by Spartan Logistics in Newport, Minnesota which is a contracted service provider for FedEx Ground. FedEx Ground provides 1-5-day delivery of small packages to all 50 states, plus Canada. Scott has been driving a truck for 41 years and has driven more than 2.5 million safe miles.

“Scott Post is one of the safest, most attentive, detail-oriented drivers I’ve ever had,” said Randy Kurek, Owner of Spartan Logistics. “He’s always ready to learn and at the same time, is a sponge for industry knowledge. He lives and breathes trucking.”  In addition to being an outstanding professional truck driver, Post is involved with many community organizations, including Operation Lifesaver, the World’s Largest Truck Convoy for Special Olympics and the Minnesota Trucking Association’s Trucks for Toys program.

Throughout 2019, drivers are nominated by their companies and one driver is chosen each month to be the Driver of the Month. The drivers who are chosen meet a high standard of requirements including an outstanding driving and work record; contribution to industry and highway safety; and involvement in the community.

In January, MTA hosts the Driver of the Year Banquet and one of the twelve nominees is selected as Driver of the Year by a panel of judges including Matthew Marin, division administrator for Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; Deb Ledvina, director of commercial vehicle operations at MnDOT; and Captain Jon Olsen, Minnesota State Patrol.

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The Nation

Transportation Secretary calls on industry to ‘Put the Brakes on Human Trafficking’

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The Department of Transportation wants to train the transportation workforce, including professional truck drivers, on the issue of human trafficking. The DOT anticipates over 1 million employees across all modes of transportation will be trained because of this program. (iStock.com/WendellandCarolyn)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao has announced a series of efforts to combat human trafficking in the transportation sector. Secretary Chao was joined by leaders from Congress, state governments and the transportation industry responding to this call to action.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation is committed to working with our public and private partners to fight human trafficking on America’s transportation system,” Chao said.

Among the initiatives announced by Secretary Chao is a renewed focus on the “Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking” pledge to train the transportation workforce and raise public awareness on the issue of human trafficking across all modes of transportation.  Secretary Chao is challenging the transportation industry to commit to “100 Pledges in 100 Days.” The Department anticipates over 1 million employees across all modes of transportation will be trained because of this initiative.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, affecting millions of adults and children in the United States and worldwide. Victims are of every age, race, gender, background, citizenship, and immigration status. Some are trafficked within their own communities on various forms of transportation, while others are transported to new locations.

To amplify counter-trafficking efforts, Secretary Chao established an annual $50,000 award to incentivize individuals and entities, including non-governmental organizations, transportation industry associations, research institutions, and state and local government organizations, to think creatively in developing innovative solutions to combat human trafficking in the transportation industry. The Department will review applications and determine the individual or entity that will most effectively utilize these funds to combat human trafficking.

Secretary Chao also announced $5.4 million in grant selections through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Human Trafficking Awareness and Public Safety Initiative. Twenty-four organizations across the country will each receive funding for projects to help prevent human trafficking and other crimes on public transportation. A list of the selected projects is available online.

To support the Department’s counter-trafficking efforts, the DOT Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking completed a report in July 2019 that recommends actions the Department can take to help combat human trafficking and best practices for states and local transportation stakeholders.

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The Nation

Former NASCAR driver and Talladega’s iconic trucker John Ray dies at 82

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Former nascar driver and talladega superspeedway’s iconic trucker john ray dies at 82
John Ray whose diesel big rig sporting the giant American flag became iconic during the track’s national anthem performances, has died. (Courtesy: Talladega Superspeedway)

TALLADEGA, Ala. —John Ray, whose big rig sporting a giant American flag became iconic during Talladega Superspeedway’s national anthem performances, has died, according to a news release. The former NASCAR driver was 82 years old.

Since 2001, Ray had driven his gold, brown and chrome Peterbilt with a large American flag down the Talladega frontstretch prior to the start of races.

“National anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” said Speedway President Brian Crichton. “What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated. He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”

For more than 40 years, Ray was a member of the White Flag Club, a dedicated service group of local businessmen from surrounding communities that assist during race weekends.

In 2001, after the 9/11 terror attacks and the tragic passing of his longtime friend Dale Earnhardt Sr., Ray, along with then Talladega Superspeedway Track Chairman Grant Lynch, looked to boost the morale of a country, and a fan base that had gone through tough times.

“I had a crazy idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back,” said Ray, who lived down the street from the track in Eastaboga, three years ago. “It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale.

“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it,” added Ray, who eventually gave up the driving duties of his big rig and handed them off to his late friend Roger Haynes, and last year to his son Johnny.

That wasn’t Ray’s first time at the 2.66-mile track. Ray, who owned “John Ray Trucking Company” since the early 70s, actually set the world speed record for a semi-truck and trailer around the mammoth track at 92.083 mph in 1975 — in a powerful Kenworth.

“We were testing brakes for a company out at the track,” Ray said. “One thing led to another — and there I was truck, trailer, and all — making my way around the track, trying to set a speed record. It was something else.”

Ray drove in the NASCAR Cup Series from 1974-1976. He competed in eight races, four at Talladega (where his best career finish was 22nd in 1974), but an accident at Daytona in 1976 ended his driving career. He continued as a car owner and essentially gave one of the sport’s greatest legends one of his first opportunities: 10-time Talladega winner Earnhardt. It would be Earnhardt’s third career start.

To read the full release, visit Talladega Superspeedway’s website.

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