Senate infrastructure funding hearing addresses trucking needs at state and local level

March 14, 2018

Tyson Fisher


Another day, another Congressional hearing about infrastructure funding. The latest hearing took place on Tuesday and inquired about the specific transportation needs for states and localities. Many issues relevant to trucking were brought up, including congestion, tolling, parking and fuel taxes.

House and Senate committees have been conducting several hearings in recent weeks to figure out how to approach President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan. According to the proposal, Trump wants to raise $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment by using only $200 billion in federal seed money and putting the burden of funding on states and localities. On Tuesday, four stakeholders had their chance to explain the best approach to infrastructure for state and local needs to the Senate Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security subcommittee.

Representing Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc., President of Managed Services Jordan Kass spoke mostly to the needs of trucking and logistics companies. Surprisingly, Kass championed the needs for small-business trucking companies.

One funding proposal involves a highway services tax, or waybill tax, which would be based on the value of freight transportation costs and is already in place for air cargo. Kass argued that unlike airlines, which is essentially an oligopoly, “there are hundreds of thousands of more motor carriers than airfreight carriers, and most motor carriers are small businesses.”

“Freight bills routinely change from first time of invoice, and we fear that a proposal to tax freight value could harm small carriers and lead to a shift toward the use of private fleets as manufacturers and retailers try to minimize the amount of tax paid,” Kass said. “Furthermore, short, minimum shipments of under 150 miles would also be taxed disproportionately to their use of infrastructure.”

Vehicle miles traveled tax
Kass was more in favor of a vehicle miles traveled tax, which was discussed in greater detail at another hearing the previous week. Much like that hearing, Kass acknowledged that a VMT tax is likely unfeasible to implement for this infrastructure bill. He recommended that the federal fuel tax increase during that transition, echoing the recommendation of the vast majority of stakeholders in previous hearings.

“While many talk about the erosion in purchasing power of the gas tax due to more fuel efficient hybrid cars and a decrease in overall driving habits, those scenarios have not played out to the same degree in freight,” Kass said. “If diesel prices change due to an increase in state taxes or market increases, the freight industry has an efficient system to accommodate and incorporate those changes into weekly operations.”

Leading off Kass’ list of state and local needs was the issue of congestion. Kass referred to the American Transportation Research Institute’s Top 100 Truck Bottlenecks report as a great place to identify the “best opportunities to invest in freight-focused infrastructure.”

Kass also mentioned in his submitted testimony the widespread truck parking problem.

“The current availability of truck parking in our country is insufficient,” Kass said. “In fact, when weather events challenge truck drivers, some of our customers have begun opening their yards not just to drivers on loads for their own freight, but for all truck drivers. They recognize that there is simply no place for these drivers to go.”

Hiring standards for motor carriers
Perhaps more controversial was Kass’ call for a national hiring standard for motor carriers. Kass said that there are no requirements for shippers or brokers to check carrier credentials issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Furthermore, he claims there is a lot of confusion over where to obtain such data, acknowledging the need for a single website to streamline and centralize information a shipper can go to see if FMCSA endorses a certain carrier.

Opposes bigger trucks
Aside from Kass, one other witness brought up needs specific to trucking. Jo Strang, senior vice president of safety and regulatory policies at Washington, D.C.-based American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, strongly opposed any increases to truck size and weight, including twin-33s.

“Increased truck lengths will divert freight from largely privately owned and maintained railroad infrastructure to already overcrowded and congested highways that are heavily subsidized by general taxpayers,” Strang said. “Given the threat of bigger trucks, short line railroads have consistently opposed increasing truck lengths, especially in the annual appropriations process.”

Not much support for tolls
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., noted that only $200 billion in direct federal funds will likely to lead to more tolls. Peters asked Kyle Schneweis, director of Nebraska Department of Transportation, whether or not tolls are a good idea for his state.

“My sense is that Nebraskans would not support putting tolls on a road that previously did not have them,” Schneweis said.

In that same breath, Schneweis said that he is not personally opposed to exploring the option of new roads with tolls.

Dan Gilmartin, CEO of Michigan Municipal League, Ann Arbor, and a member of the National League of Cities, was flat out against tolls.

“I don’t see tolls being a likely tool Michigan would use,” Gilmartin said. “Perhaps in other places it makes sense, but I don’t see that happening in our state.”

Kass was also against the idea of tolls for infrastructure funding, saying they will force truckers to reroute onto local roads if feasible. Kass pointed out that small business truckers are the majority and typically do not have a large administrative staff, if any. More tolling, Kass claims, will lead to additional administrative burden on the invoicing process. Tolls are not popular with carriers or shippers, Kass said.