Logistics and transportation industry trade groups welcomed Tuesday’s passage of a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package in the Senate, calling it a long overdue step toward revitalizing the nation’s infrastructure and supporting the supply chain economy.
The bill passed 69 to 30, with 19 Republicans joining all 50 of their Democrat colleagues to support the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation reauthorizes spending on existing federal public works programs and adds $550 billion for additional projects that address roads and bridges, broadband internet expansion, safety, and energy production, among others.
Representatives from the trucking and food distribution industry lauded the bill’s inclusion of the DRIVE-Safe Act, a program designed to expand the available pool of truck driver candidates nationwide.
“We are particularly pleased to see the inclusion of the DRIVE-Safe Act pilot program, which is a good first step in helping to address our nation’s growing truck driver shortage,” Mark Allen, president and CEO of the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA), said in a statement. “Foodservice distributors pay, on average, in excess of $70,000 annually plus benefits for professional drivers, which is a great bridge to America’s middle class.”
American Trucking Associations (ATA) President and CEO Chris Spear added: “Passage of this bipartisan infrastructure bill is a groundbreaking step toward revitalizing America’s decaying roads and bridges, supporting our supply chain and economy with the foundation they need to grow, compete globally, and lead the world. The bill also contains significant measures to grow and strengthen trucking’s essential workforce.”
Improving surface transportation and expanding broadband coverage also rank high for industry leaders. Representatives from the Association of American Railroads (AAR) pointed to the inclusion of funding for safety and improvement projects on the nation’s railways and highways, as well as funding for research into helping railroads reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, as important steps forward.
The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) praised the inclusion of “cricital funding” to build and develop secure, high-speed networks. The legislation includes $65 billion to fund expanded access to broadband.
“As the country continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, the importance of building secure high-speed networks to increase and improve access for all Americans cannot be overstated,” TIA’s Vice President of Government Affairs, Melissa Newman, said in a statement. “It is imperative that the House quickly passes this legislation allowing funds to be used in an efficient, targeted manner to expand reliable connectivity to every American home and business.”
Not everyone is overjoyed at the outcome, however. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which represents small-business truckers, said the legislation fails to address a lack of truck parking nationwide, which the group says is a vital safety issue for its members. An amendment to address the issue—sponsored by Senators Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.)—was excluded from the package.
“Truckers are routinely expected to simply be thankful for more highway funding and accept the fact all their unique needs are ignored time and time again. Years of inaction on addressing the lack of truck parking has created a nationwide crisis that threatens the safety of millions of professional drivers, and increasingly the motoring public,” according to Todd Spencer, president and CEO of OOIDA. “By failing to include the Kelly/Lummis amendment, the Senate has missed yet another opportunity to enact meaningful policies that would immediately improve drivers’ lives and highway safety.”
Other small-business groups expressed concerns as well, particularly when it comes to funding the bill. Among several measures, lawmakers will re-purpose some existing Covid-19 funds to help defray the cost of the bill. Small Business Majority, which represents more than 85,000 small businesses nationwide, said the move will hurt many small businesses still struggling with the effects of the pandemic.
“Although the bipartisan infrastructure bill is a necessary first step to economic recovery, we are disappointed that the package will be paid for in part by pulling billions of much-needed dollars from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) grant and loan programs,” according to John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of Small Business Majority. “While economies are reopening around the country, business is not back to ‘normal’ for many small-business owners. There is still a substantial pool of money left in the pot of emergency relief funds, now inaccessible to hard-hit small businesses waiting and hoping for this already allocated assistance.”