|Big Changes Contained In New Highway Bill|
|Thursday, 12 July 2012 13:23|
Ever hear of Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21? Unless you live in the bubble that is Washington D.C. probably not, they love acronyms in D.C.
MAP-21 is the newly approved federal highway bill replacing the previous highway bill titled - Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for User (SAFETEA-LU). By the way, the “LU” was actually figured into the name of the bill by then House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) as a way to recognize his wife whose name is – Lu. Who knew immortality could be found in how a congressional bill is named?
Back to serious though. Typically a highway bill is supposed to be for a period of 5 years and outline federal transportation policy. The new bill will only be for 27 months expiring on October 1, 2014, so before the ink is dry on MAP-21 expect stakeholders to begin politicking for the next version.
After endless wrangling between house and senate conferees reconciling two very different versions of a highway bill, they eventually agreed on a 600 page document that will have a significant impact on the nation’s trucking industry – some good, some not so good – all depending on your point-of-view.
Congress did nothing to shore up the (in)solvency of the highway trust fund that is supposed to finances highway related safety programs and road building. Instead they engaged in some accounting gimmicks and grabbed money from places like the general fund ignoring many in the trucking industry that had asked for an increase in the federal diesel fuel tax to support infrastructure projects.
Briefly, (and without further editorial comment) here are some of the changes coming down the road.
Electronic-on-board recorders. Congress is mandating their installation in commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) operating in interstate commerce (interestingly, some members of the House are trying to squash this part of the highway bill through the appropriations process by not approving any federal funding to implement a law they approved – stay tuned).
DOT Broker bond. Increased from $10,000 to $75,000. Also, motor carriers who broker their excess freight will be required to secure broker authority and post the bond. Bonding companies will be required to notify the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in advance of a cancelled bond similar to the same requirement for liability insurance held by interstate truckers.
Mandates the establishment of a drug and alcohol clearinghouse for positive test results and that the system has interoperability with other data systems (e.g. Pre-employment screening program or PSP).
Establish a federal employer notification system for commercial driver’s license holders (e.g. Similar to California’s Employer Pull Notice program )
New Entrants. Requires safety review of new entrants to be performed no later than 12 months after acquiring authority (current law is 18 months). Requires FMCSA to issue rulemaking requiring new entrants to take a proficiency examination prior to issuance of operating authority. Maintains registration fee at $300.
Instructs the Secretary of Transportation to establish minimal entry level training standards to get a commercial driver’s license.
Significantly beefs up FMCSA’s authority to shut down “reincarnated” motor carriers.
Fines for many violations going up significantly.
Authorized $215 million for the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program for 2013 and $218 million for 2014. This program supplies state law enforcement agencies with matching funds to enforce federal safety regulations. (e.g. truck inspections).
The highway bill also directed the Secretary of Transportation to perform the following studies and report back to Congress. These studies could be the basis for future mandates from congress depending upon study results but, they can also be viewed as congress “kicking the can” down the road on issues that generated too much controversy.
Study the appropriateness of current minimum financial responsibility and bond requirements (current federal minimum for liability insurance is $750,000). The Secretary is also instructed to review each requirement every 4 years to determine their adequacy.
Perform a comprehensive analysis on property carrying CMVs exceeding 26,001 pounds for crash worthiness (as recently as 10 years ago approximately 800 truck drivers were killed in crashes. The number dropped to about 300 in 2009).
Study the efficacy of the newly proposed 34-hour restart provision adopted by FMCSA in December 2011.
Comprehensive study on increasing size and weight allowed on the National Highway Network.
Total highway funding is tagged at $40.4 billion in 2013 and $41 billion in 2014 and a state will get a distribution based on their 2012 share. There is more news on how California fared elsewhere in this issue.