The long road ahead
The new transportation law addresses a host of important matters. Unfortunately, funding isn't one of them.
Some will say I need to get a life, but I just spent an evening with the long-awaited 1,656-page transportation funding bill, "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act," or "MAP-21." The legislation, as everyone knows by now, was signed into law on July 6, after the previous law was kept alive by no fewer than 11 short-term extensions. It ensures funding, at the current level, of transportation and other projects until Dec. 31, 2014.
While any bill that keeps current projects moving for the next two years and preserves 3 million jobs has much to commend it, there were some disappointments as well. For example, in my opinion, there were several things on which Congress should have taken a firm stand but did not do so.
Take the long-debated driver hours-of-service rule, for example. Though the discussion has dragged on for years, Congress failed to act decisively and either adopt or reject the rule's latest iteration. Instead, it chose to prolong the matter even further by directing the secretary of transportation to complete by March 31, 2013, a "field study on the efficacy of the restart rules published on Dec. 27, 2011." This report will be due back to Congress on Sept. 30, 2013, when, regardless of the conclusions, it is sure to spark another long and protracted discussion.
It was much the same story with the proposal to overhaul the current truck size and weight limits. At one time, Congress was expected to authorize the states to allow larger trucks on their portions of the interstate highway system, but no such provision made it into MAP-21. Instead, Congress mandated yet another study of the impact of larger trucks on safety and infrastructure, with a report due to Congress in two years.
The proposed XL pipeline fared no better. Although many initially thought the new law would contain provisions authorizing the project, that didn't happen. Faced with President Obama's threat to veto the bill if it included any such language, Congress backed off and omitted any mention of the matter.
While all of these would seem to represent missed opportunities, I believe the measure's most glaring omission was its failure to provide for any significant increases in funding. Most conspicuous was the fact that once again, Congress failed to deal with the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. These taxes have not been increased since 1993; and while none of us wants higher taxes, at some point, the bullet must be bitten.
All this notwithstanding, the bill also had its good points. The legislation adds language to the current National Transportation Policy, outlining goals to invest in infrastructure and operational improvements that will strengthen the freight network.
Another provision resolves the debate over electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) for motor carriers. The law instructs the secretary of transportation to complete in one year the development of regulations that will require EOBRs for interstate carriers, after which the carriers will have two years to install the units in all tractors operated by drivers subject to the hours-of-service rule.
One of the most important provisions requires brokers and forwarders to post a surety bond of $75,000, up from the current $10,000. This should help weed out the underfunded firms that are at the root of many of the industry's problems, i.e., those that fail to pay carriers or that engage in clandestine rebrokering. There are also provisions controlling certification and operations—all in all, positive changes for the brokerage industry.
The bill deals positively with dozens of other transportation issues as well. Still, without proper funding, one has to wonder how effective our new map will be. Maybe we should try again when it's not an election year.
Clifford F. Lynch is principal of C.F. Lynch & Associates, a provider of logistics management advisory services, and author of Logistics Outsourcing – A Management Guide and co-author of The Role of Transportation in the Supply Chain. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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