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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Freight panel report: More CDL training, fuel tax increase, highway user fees needed


By Dorothy Cox, October 29, 2013

The panel's full report said that federal fuel taxes should be raised by between 25 cents and 40 cents per gallon to address the funding gap and that the rate increase should be indexed to the construction cost index and phased in over a period of several years.

WASHINGTON — Besides more money, among the things mentioned as necessary to creating a competitive, healthy and continuing freight transportation system today during a freight panel hearing were more training for commercial drivers, greater use of public-private partnerships, and establishing a national freight policy. 

Rep. John J. Duncan, R-Tenn., chairman of the Panel of 21st Century Freight Transportation, during the panel’s recommendations for creating and sustaining more efficient movement of freight to bolster the economy, said more training for commercial drivers would “provide a lot of good jobs for our country.” 

As for more public-private partnerships, Duncan said such projects as the I-81 corridor would take up to 2,000 trucks off the road daily. 

“Because bottlenecks at any point in the transportation system can seriously impede freight mobility and drive up the cost of the goods, improving the efficient and safe flow of freight across all modes of transportation directly impacts the health of the economy,” he added. 

However, the main issue, or “sticking point,” was how to fund not only existing infrastructure fixes but how to fund infrastructure and freight transport solutions that will last well into the future — for the long haul as it were — so the same problems don’t crop up after the next 10 years, panel members agreed. 

The panel's full report noted a “significant surface transportation investment gap” and called for “an annual investment level of between $225 billion and $340 billion –– by all levels of government and the private sector –– over the next 50 years to upgrade all modes of surface transportation (highways, bridges, public transit, freight rail and intercity passenger rail) to a state of good repair.” The current annual capital investment from all government sources in road and bridge infrastructure is $182 billion, according to the panel. 

Although not mentioned today but in the panel’s full report was a proposal that federal fuel taxes be raised by between 25 cents and 40 cents per gallon to address the funding gap and that the rate increase should be indexed to the construction cost index and phased in over a period of several years. 

An increased fuel tax would continue to be a viable revenue source for surface transportation at least through 2025, stated the full report. “Thereafter,” however, “the most promising alternative user fee revenue measure appears to be a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) fee, provided that substantial privacy and collection cost issues can be addressed.” 

The full report also called for other user-based fees to be utilized to help address the shortfall, such as container fees for freight projects; ticket taxes for passenger rail improvements; tax policy changes to incentivize expansion of intermodal networks; an expanded use of “congestion pricing” on federal-aid highways in major metropolitan areas “to be utilized under conditions that protect the public interest;” and “restrictions on the use of revenues generated through congestion pricing to transportation purposes in the travel corridors where the fees are imposed.”

Further, the gas tax should be increased by10 cents per gallon, and indexed to inflation; the diesel tax should be increased 15 cents per gallon, and indexed to inflation.

And the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax (HVUT), which has not been increased since 1983, should be doubled and indexed, the report said, and the truck tires excise tax should be indexed to inflation.
Public-private partnerships should be encouraged to attract additional private investment to the surface transportation system, “provided that conditions are included to protect the public interest and the movement of interstate commerce,” the report stated.

The special panel of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was established by full Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and ranking member Nick J. Rahall, II, D-WVa., in April.
The panel mentioned recommendations at today’s hearing that were also included in the full report.
They said that Congress should: 

• Direct the Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with the Secretary of the Army and the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, to establish a comprehensive national freight transportation policy and designate a national, multimodal freight network; 

• Ensure robust public investment in all modes of transportation on which freight movement relies, and incentivize additional private investment in freight transportation facilities, to maintain and improve the condition and performance of the freight transportation network; 

 • Promote and expedite the development and delivery of projects and activities that improve and facilitate the efficient movement of goods; 

• Authorize dedicated, sustainable funding for multimodal freight Projects of National and Regional Significance through a grant process and establish clear benchmarks for project selection.  Projects eligible for such funding would have a regional or national impact on the overall performance of the multimodal freight network identified by the Secretary of Transportation; 

 • Direct the Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of the Army, to identify and recommend sustainable sources of revenue across all modes of transportation that would provide the necessary investment in the nation’s multimodal freight network and align contributions with use of, and expected benefit of increased investment in, such a network; and 

 • Review, working through the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Committee on Ways and Means, the secretary’s freight-funding and revenue recommendations and develop specific funding and revenue options for freight transportation projects prior to Congress’ consideration of the surface transportation reauthorization bill in 2014. 

In addition to Duncan and Nadler, the Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation included Republican members Gary Miller (CA), Rick Crawford (AR), Richard Hanna (NY), Daniel Webster (FL), and Markwayne Mullin (OK); and Democratic members Corrine Brown (FL), Daniel Lipinski (IL), Albio Sires (NJ), and Janice Hahn (CA). 

The full report is available here.