The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, which funds the federal government until September 30, 2016, was signed into law by the President on December 18. The FY16 measure, sometimes referred to as the omnibus, combines all 12 annual appropriations bills into a single piece of legislation, totaling $1.1 trillion. The US Department of Transportation receives $76 billion in FY16, equating to a roughly five percent increase over FY15 levels. This increase is made possible by both the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which raised budget caps on discretionary spending, and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, a five year surface transportation bill which included augmented authorizations for programs funded through appropriations.
In addition to funding the twelve major governmental departments, the FY16 omnibus contains a policy rider with the potential to extend the current suspension of the July 2013 34-hour restart rule. Last year’s omnibus temporarily suspended enforcement of the July 2013 rule and required the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to conduct a field study assessing the operational, safety, health and fatigue impacts of the restart provision. Before reinstating the July 2013 34-hour restart rule, the FY16 omnibus now requires FMCSA to demonstrate “statistically significant improvement in all outcomes related to safety, operator fatigue, driver health and longevity, and work schedules.” With this new requirement, the July 2013 rule will most likely remain suspended until FMCSA assesses the implications and makes any necessary adjustments to the ongoing examination of the 34-hour hours-of-service rule.
Finally, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 provides $500 million for the popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program. TIGER funds capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure and typically a significant portion of the money each round are awarded to multimodal freight projects.
On December 18, President Obama signed the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015. S. 808 passed the Senate and House unanimously, on July 18 and December 10 respectively. This bill performs the first major overhaul of the Surface Transportation Board since the Board’s inception in 1995.
S. 808 establishes the STB as an independent government agency, removing it from its previous position as a subsidiary of the Department of Transportation. It also increases membership on the Board from three to five, authorizes five years of appropriations for STB programs, and makes key changes to arbitration procedures in both rate and service disputes. These changes provide railroads options within the STB to resolve disputes and strengthen the board’s ability to provide oversight of freight railroads. The bill was sponsored by Senator John Thune (R-SD) and cosponsored by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL).
On December 1, House and Senate Conferees filed H.R. 22, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Conference Report, a comprehensive, five-year surface transportation bill. The FAST Act passed the House by a vote of 359-65 and the Senate by a vote of 83-16. The President signed the bill into law on December 4. The legislation provides $281 billion in Highway Trust Fund Contract Authority, a significant boost from current spending levels.
H.R. 22 requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to hide Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories scores from the public until the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program is studied and any needed reforms are implemented. The FAST Act also creates a national, multimodal freight policy and provides $10.8 billion, over the course of five years, to support freight infrastructure projects. The freight funding will be distributed through a formula program and newly-created competitive grant program, named the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program. The FAST Act improves upon MAP-21’s Primary Freight Network, renaming it the Primary Highway Freight System and expanding the mileage from 27,000 centerline miles to just over 41,000 centerline miles. Furthermore, the bill establishes the first-of-its-kind National Multimodal Freight Network and does not limit the mileage or number of facilities that can be included on the network.
Several provisions that were included in either the Senate or House proposals earlier this year were not incorporated into the FAST Act. A pilot program allowing for commercial motor vehicle drivers under the age of 21 to operate interstate was omitted from the final bill, as was a provision that preempted state hours of service and rest break regulations.
On November 16, 2015, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) introduced “The Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015, Part II.” H.R. 3996 is the latest MAP-21 extension, providing highway and transit authority until December 4, 2015. The bill passed both the House and the Senate by voice vote and was signed by the President on November 20, the day contract authority from the previous extension ended. This latest MAP-21 extension provides Congress with an additional two weeks to continue working on a Surface Transportation Conference Report.
The House’s comprehensive surface transportation bill, titled “The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015,” passed on November 5, 2015 in a 363-34 vote. The bill provides $325 billion in contract authority over six years. STRRA requires Compliance, Safety, Accountability scores be hidden from public view until reforms are made to the score calculation and contains a graduated license program for drivers under the age of 21 to operate interstate. During floor debate of the bill, Representative Denham introduced an amendment preempting state laws governing truckers’ rest and meal breaks. The amendment was adopted by a vote of 248-180.
The House bill is being conferenced with the Senate surface transportation proposal, which was passed on July 29, 2015. A final Conference Report is expected this week.
In a continuing effort to mitigate the effects of port slowdowns, such as those that occurred during late 2014 into early 2015, Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at creating safeguards to prevent future events. The Ensuring Continued Operations and No Other Major Incidents, Closures, or Slowdowns Act was introduced on November 5, 2015 and has seven cosponsors: Representatives Tom Cole (R-OK), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Steve Stivers (R-OH), Fred Upton (R-MI), and Greg Walden (R-OR).
The ECONOMICS Act identifies a set of ““triggers,” including a labor dispute at four or more port facilities, a labor dispute in which the number of affected employees at ports totals 6,000 or more, or U.S. exports drop 15 percent or more in one month or five percent or more in two consecutive months. These “triggers” result in the convening of a board and a report to the White House and the public on whether there should be a judicial injunction. The bill leaves room for the Director of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics to develop additional conditions under which a Board of Inquiry can be appointed. Prior to the introduction of this bill, Representatives Newhouse and Schrader offered the Port Performance Freight Statistics Program amendment during floor debate of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, the House’s long-term surface transportation bill. While not the same as the ECONOMICS Act, this amendment had the same goal. The amendment, which would have established a statistics program to consistently measure port performance, failed.
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced a comprehensive, long-term surface transportation bill on October 20 and approved the legislation by a unanimous vote two days later. The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, a six year bill with $325 billion in contract authority, now awaits action on the House floor. In a break with tradition, the House bill does not contain a Ways & Means title, meaning there is no funding attached to the proposal. Instead, the chamber appears poised to accept the General Fund transfers and budgetary offsets provided in the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act, approved by the Senate on July 30.
STRRA includes reforms to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safety Measurement System and the Compliance, Safety, Accountability programs. The bill hides Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories scores from public view until the nonpartisan National Research Council of the National Academies conducts a study of CSA and SMS to better understand and analyze the accuracy of BASIC scores. The House bill also requires DOT to establish a task force to evaluate and make recommendations for a potential pilot program allowing drivers between the ages of 19 years and six months and 21 years of age to operate between states. The Secretary would establish such a pilot program within one year of the task force issuing its set of recommendations.
H.R. 3763 also makes significant changes to national freight policy, which was first established under MAP-21 but was limited in scope to highways. STRRA requires the development of a national multimodal freight policy, a multimodal freight network, and a multimodal National Freight Strategic Plan. The legislation also provides $4.46 billion in contract authority, over the six year lifespan of the bill, to the newly-created Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program. This freight-specific competitive grant program provides up to $500 million, or about 11 percent of total funds, to intermodal and freight rail projects.
On October 23, Representative Bill Shuster (R-PA) introduced a three-week patch to MAP-21, titled “The Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015.” The bill provides a blanket Positive Train Control extension for railroads until December 31, 2018. An additional 24 month extension is available, on a case-by-case basis, to railroads that can demonstrate progress towards the mandate. H.R. 3819 requires the submission of annual progress reports from railroads, beginning March 31, 2016. The bill also directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct annual reviews ensuring carriers are on track to comply by the 2018 implementation deadline, with the option of penalties for compliance violations. USDOT must submit a progress report to Congress by July 1, 2018, summarizing the progress each railroad has made in implementing PTC.
In addition to including a provision extending the PTC implementation deadline for three years, H.R. 3819 authorized highway and transit programs through November 20. The legislation passed the House and Senate by voice vote and was signed into law by the President on October 29, hours before MAP-21’s previous extension was set to expire.
On September 10, Representative Ribble (R-WI) introduced the Safe, Flexible, and Efficient Trucking Act. If passed, H.R. 3488 would give states the ability to allow freight trucks to carry up to 91 thousand pounds, an increase from the current 80 thousand allowed. Under the bill, heftier trucks would be required to have a sixth axle, so as to mitigate the impacts the increased weight has on safety and pavement wear. The bill does not deal with the length of trucks and has been assessed by some as a middle ground solution in the ongoing debate over truck size and weight. H.R. 3488 has no cosponsors and was referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
With a new fiscal year set to begin on October 1, the Senate and House passed an eleventh hour continuing resolution to fund the government through December 11. The CR passed in the House by a 277-151 vote and easily cleared the Senate 78-20. The final agreement, signed by the President on September 30, includes funding for Planned Parenthood, a major point of contention during negations. Sometime before December 11, Congress will once again need to negotiate a funding package, which will likely be coupled with a larger budget deal and a debt ceiling increase. The CR that passed September 30 maintains current funding levels and is a result of Congressional failure to pass any of the twelve appropriations bills earlier this year.
There was speculation before the CR was introduced that it might include an extension to the Positive Train Control deadline. However, the final agreement does not address the December 31, 2015 deadline; instead standalone legislation was introduced in the House to extend the deadline until 2018. Additionally, the CR does not include a “snapback ” to the July 2013 trucking hours-of-service rules. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has said it will wait to reinstate the 34-hour restart rule, which was suspended in the FY15 Omnibus, until it receives Congressional review of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Restart Study, also mandated in last year’s omnibus.
On September 30, the Positive Train Control Enforcement and Implementation Act of 2015 was introduced in the House by Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA). H.R. 3651 extends the Positive Train Control implementation deadline to the end of 2018 and calls for railroads to submit progress reports throughout the implementation process. It also gives the US Department of Transportation limited authority to extend the deadline beyond 2018, on a case-by-case basis, for railroads that have made clear efforts toward implementing PTC but are still experiencing difficulties. H.R. 3651 is cosponsored by Transportation & Infrastructure Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Chair and Ranking Member, Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Michael Capuano (D-MA), respectively.
Earlier this month, a GAO Report to Congressional requesters found that most railroads are experiencing significant challenges implementing Positive Train Control and are unlikely to meet the December 31, 2015 deadline. The Report, which was requested by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD), among others, found a lack of Federal Railroad Administration oversight in the process thus-far and recommended the agency develop a plan to hold railroads accountable for PTC implementation. Additionally, GAO recommended that Congress approve legislation to extend the deadline after finding that most railroads need an additional one to five years to complete implementation — a call that seeks to be answered by the introduction of H.R. 3651.
On August 5, Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE) introduced the “Tax Relief and #FixTheTrustFund For Infrastructure Certainty Act of 2015,” or the TRAFFIC Relief Act. The bill, S.1994, would reinstate the Highway Trust Fund’s solvency through a gas and diesel tax annual increase of four cents for four years. Once a total of 16 cents has been added, the tax would be indexed to inflation. The legislation, which was referred to the Committee on Finance, of which Senator Carper is a member, also includes tax credits to offset the impact of the tax hike on motorists. According to the bill authors, the TRAFFIC Relief Act answers the call for a “long-term funding solution to chronic transportation investment shortfalls” and would generate at least $220 billion over 10 years. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) cosponsored the legislation.
On July 31, Representative David Reichert (R-WA) introduced the Protecting Orderly and Responsible Transit of Shipments Act. This bill, a companion piece to Senator Cory Gardner ’s (R-CO) PORTS Act (S. 1519), was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The legislation will expand the Taft-Hartley Act to allow governors to convene a board of inquiry, as well as to petition federal courts to order the end of strikes, lockouts or slowdown. Presently, this power resides solely with the President.
According to its authors, the PORTS Act was introduced as a response to the prolonged contract negotiations and slowdown of cargo handling at the West Coast ports in late 2014 and early 2015. Beyond calling for an expansion and clarification of the Taft-Hartley Act, HR. 3433 also calls for a study of the slowdown experienced by West Coast ports earlier this year. Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Mike Coffman (R-CO), and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS) are cosponsors of the legislation.
The latest MAP-21 extension, the “Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015,” was signed into law by the President on July 31. The patch was ushered through Congress after it became evident the House would decline to vote on the Senate ’s DRIVE Act, a six-year surface transportation bill. The patch authorizes highway and transit programs through October 29 but has enough funding to carry programs through December.
MAP-21 initially expired on October 1, 2014 but has been extended several times as Congress develops a long-term bill and searches for additional revenue to support the Highway Trust Fund. Traditionally sustained through gas and diesel taxes, the Highway Trust Fund has faced chronic insolvency in recent years due to increasing fuel efficiency and a stagnant tax model despite inflationary increases to the cost of construction. As a result, each extension of MAP-21 has forced Congress to transfer funds from other sources into the Highway Trust Fund in order to sustain spending levels. The Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015 transfers money from the General Fund of the Treasury to the Highway Trust Fund and offsets the costs with pay-for unrelated to surface transportation.
On July 29, Rep. David Reichert (R-WA) introduced a bill to improve the condition and performance of the national multimodal freight network. This bill, which was referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, is companion legislation to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)’s National Multimodal Freight Policy and Investment Act. If enacted, the bill would provide $2 billion a year for a multimodal freight investment grant program and would create the first-ever national multimodal freight policy.
H.R.3398 awards funds to projects that reduce delays in shipments and congestion on our roads and rails. The bill also provides $150 million for grade separation projects and $50 million to repair critical last-mile shortline rail connectors. According to the bill authors, the National Multimodal Freight Policy and Investment act seeks to amplify the voice of local and regional freight stakeholders and requires states to release a comprehensive plan of short- and long-term freight goals in order to qualify for federal grants. Rep. Reichert’s bill also expedites permitting for freight projects by creating an Office of Freight Planning, Permitting, and Development within the Office of the Secretary at the DOT. Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) are cosponsors of the legislation.
On July 30, the Senate voted 65 to 34 to pass the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act. According to the most recent Congressional Budget Office report available on the proposal (dated July 24, 2015), the six-year highway and transit bill contains $350 billion in contract authority. Notably, the bill only provides three years of funding through various funding offsets unrelated to transportation. The Highway Trust Fund has faced chronic insolvency in recent years, due to declining revenues from gas and diesel taxes, which have not been raised since 1993.
The six-year highway and transit bill makes changes to the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program, includes a new set of port performance metrics, and extends the Positive Train Control implementation deadline, among other provisions.To become law, the bill would need to be approved, as is by the House. Alternatively, the House could introduce and pass their own version of a long-term surface transportation bill and conference the two proposals.
The DRIVE Act requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to commission the National Research Council of the National Academies to conduct a study of Safety Measurement Systems and the CSA program. The study will analyze BASIC scores’ correlation to crashes, as well as examine the methodology used to calculate BASIC percentiles and the relative value of the data. Additionally, the study will identify data collection gaps and consider whether alterative systems would identify high risk carriers more accurately. Under the proposal, FMCSA has 18 months to provide Congress with the results of the study, at which point, FMCSA would issue a corrective action plan that identifies how the agency plans to address concerns raised by the report.
The DRIVE Act also includes a provision banning FMCSA from publishing Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories scores until the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General certifies that the identified deficiencies have been address and the correction action plan has been implemented. Furthermore, FMCSA must fully implement, or satisfactory address, the issues raised in the February 2014 GAO report, titled “Modifying the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability Program Would Improve the Ability to Identify High Risk Carriers.“
The DRIVE Act stipulates FMCSA must regularly update Congress on the status of final rules concerning entry-level training requirements, safety fitness determinations, Hours of Service and record of duty status for CMV drivers. The Senate bill includes a provision requiring ports provide Congress with data, including capacity levels and cargo volumes, so that they may better monitor potential port congestion issues. Finally, the DRIVE Act includes a title extending the PTC deadline until December 31, 2018, on a case by case basis. Class I railroads must develop and submit implementation plans and the US DOT Secretary has the ability to request changes or deny reports as he or she sees fit.
The DRIVE Act also creates the first-of-it’s kind multimodal freight policy and provides guaranteed and stable funding for freight infrastructure. The bill includes a freight formula program that will help ensure every state has resources needed to support inter and intrastate commerce. The legislation also contains freight-focused competitive grant programs, the Assistance for Major Projects Program and the Assistance for Freight Projects Program, which leverage federal investment by encouraging public-private partnerships and other creative financing approaches.
To address the chronic insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) introduced H.R.2971, the Highway Trust Fund Certainty Act, on July 9. The bill raises the federal motor fuel taxes by 10.1 cents and indexes the new rates to inflation. If passed, the revenue-neutral raise would represent the first fuel tax increase since 1993. According to Rep. Rice’s office, raising the gas tax by 10.1 cents will cost the average driver approximately $130 per year. To offset the impact of the higher price at the pump, H.R.2971 creates a $133 tax credit. Rep. Rice’s bill currently has no cosponsors.
On July 29, the House of Representatives voted 385-34 to pass a short-term extension to MAP-21. One day later, the Senate voted 91-4 to send the bill to President Obama for his signature. H.R. 3236, the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015, authorizes highway and transit programs through October 29 but has enough funding to carry programs through December, if necessary. The bill is the third short-term extension to MAP-21, which originally expired September 30, 2014, but was extended through May 31, 2015 and again through July 31, 2015.
The latest patch was agreed to shortly after the Senate approved their six-year reauthorization bill, the DRIVE Act, in hopes that three months would provide the House with enough time to introduce and approve their own transportation bill.
On July 10, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced S. 1732, the Truck Safety Act. If passed, Sen. Booker’s bill would increase the minimum levels of insurance that truck drivers must carry, from $750,000 to $1.5 million. The bill would also give the Secretary of Transportation authority to raise minimum levels again if deemed necessary. The Truck Safety Act requests US DOT commence with or finalize several rulemakings, including the Speed Limiter Rule.
At a July 15 Commerce Committee markup of S.1732, the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015, Sen. Booker introduced an amendment identical to the Truck Safety Act. However, it failed by voice vote and was not incorporated into the Commerce Committee’s bill or the final version of the six-year surface transportation bill passed by the Senate.
Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) introduced a bill on July 16 to improve the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s compliance and safety rating system. The Correct the Safety Analysis Act of 2015, known as the CSA Act, was referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. In light of claims that flaws in the Compliance Safety, Accountability program negatively affect a trucking business’ reputation and safety rating, H.R.3093 directs FMCSA to use CSA scores internally for resource allocation and hide the information from public view.
Both the House and the Senate took steps towards finalizing the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act of 2016. On June 9, the House passed their version of THUD FY16 with a vote of 216—210. The bill contains a policy rider that continues the suspension of the 34-hour restart rule pending further study. Provisions were also added requiring the FMCSA to complete its final rule on electronic logging devices, prohibiting FMCSA from continuing to work on a rule that would increase the minimum amount of insurance liability for truckers, and permitting the use of 33-foot twin trailers.
The Senate Committee on Appropriations favorably reported their version of THUD FY16 on June 25, where it now awaits a vote from the full Senate. The Senate bill contains similar provisions to the House’s version, with TIGER grant money a notable exception. The House voted to authorize TIGER grant funding at $100 million for FY16, whereas the Senate bill provides $500 million for the program, in keeping with the FY15 level.
The Senate committee passed their version of the bill after a policy rider allowing 33-foot trailers sparked debate along party lines. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)’s amendment resembles the House rider, but grants states additional authority to request exemptions if a segment of the National Highway network is not capable of safely accommodating 33-foot twin trailers. Shelby’s amendment passed 16-14 and was incorporated into the bill. The THUD FY16 bill faces obstacles down the road. In early June, the White House issued a veto threat for the House appropriations bill, citing the 34-hour Hours of Service rollback as one of its concerns.
On June 19, the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015 passed the Senate with unanimous consent. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), reclassifies the STB as an independent government agency, autonomous from the Department of Transportation. The legislation increases the number of STB members from three to five, expands voluntary arbitration procedures for resolving rate and service disputes, and sets timelines for the rate review process. S. 808 also provides the STB with the ability to initiate investigations on issues other than rate cases. The House has yet to introduce their version of the bill, nor signal any intent to take up the Senate’s legislation.
On June 25, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the National Multimodal Freight Policy and Investment Act. The six-year bill creates a national multimodal freight policy that accurately reflects the true multimodal nature of goods movement. S.1680 authorizes $2 billion a year to a multimodal freight investment grant program. Funds will be awarded to projects that reduce delays in shipments and congestion on our roads and rail. Of the $2 billion-a-year distribution of funds, $150 million will fund grade separation projects with an additional $50 million going towards short-line rail connectors.
The bill codifies the National Freight Advisory Committee, created by former Transportation Secretary LaHood, and requires states to release a comprehensive plan of short- and long-term freight goals in order to qualify for federal grants. The legislation also creates an Office of Freight Planning, Permitting, and Development within the Office of the Secretary at the DOT to oversee the grant review process. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Edward Markey (D-MA) are cosponsors of the bill.
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), Chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, introduced a bill on June 24 to allow younger commercial driver’s license holders to cross state lines. The “The Commercial Driver Act,” which was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, creates a pilot program targeted at drivers age 18-20. The bill authorizes states with similar Class A commercial driver license laws to enter into reciprocity agreements for interstate travel. In response to the growing truck driver shortage, the proposed pilot program expands the pool of eligible truck drivers and establishes career opportunities for recent high school graduates.
To balance the expanded responsibility given to young drivers, the bill includes provisions mandating the younger drivers adhere to stricter hours of service regulations, mileage limits, and additional reporting requirements. Fischer’s bill currently does not have any cosponsors.
On June 24, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced legislation to reform the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulatory process. S.1669, the “Truck Safety Reform Act,” aims to increase transparency in the FMCSA and provide increased oversight of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability commercial carrier scoring program. As proposed, the bill requires the FMCSA to implement broad reform measures, covering both past and future rulemaking.
Specifically, the legislation mandates that FMCSA conduct a thorough review process of all rules, regulations, guidances and enforcement policies every five years, and the agency must report their findings back to Congress. Additionally, S.1669 allows for greater input from industry stakeholders during the rule-making process and increases the FMCSA&RSQUO;s public accountability.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee introduced and favorably reported S.1647, the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act. The bipartisan bill is a long-term surface transportation proposal funded at $278 billion over six years. Most highway programs included in the bill are subject to stagnant or modest funding increases. Notable exceptions are the National Freight Program and the Assistance for Major Projects Program — two new spending initiatives included in the DRIVE Act.
The National Freight Program is funded in FY2016 at $2 billion. Funding increases by $100 million increments and eventually is set at $2.5 billion for FY2021. The formula-based program provides states with funds based on current apportionment criteria. The bill further stipulates that funds would be distributed based on the percentage of miles that state has compared to the total mileage of the national freight network.
Additionally, the DRIVE Act establishes a freight-focused, merit-based competitive grant program. The Assistance for Major Projects Program boasts broad applicant eligibility and is structured similarly to the SAFETEA-LU-era Projects of National and Regional Significance. However, unlike PNRS, AMPP has contract authority from the Highway Trust Fund, meaning if the DRIVE Act was voted into law, the program would be safe from Appropriators.
The bill also includes $675 million per year for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, which allows states to apply for federally backed, low-interest loans to finance large construction projects.
Three Senate committees must act on the legislation before the full Senate can vote on the DRIVE Act. Specifically, the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs must first write the transit title, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation must draft the rail and safety title, and the Committee on Finance has to determine how to fund the measure.
In the wake of West Coast port strikes earlier this year, several Senators have introduced bills aimed at preventing future slowdowns. On June 17, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation favorably reported the Port Performance Act, a bill to provide nationally consistent port performance measures. Committee Chairman Sen. John Thune (R-SD)’s legislation requires the director of the Bureau of Transportation Statics to establish a port performance statistics program and report on performance and capacity every year to Congress. The legislation also mandates performance reports prior to a labor agreement’s expiration and each month thereafter until a new contract is reached. The bill now awaits consideration from the full Senate.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) also introduced legislation in the aftermath of the West Coast labor dispute. S.1519, the “Protecting Orderly and Responsible Transit of ShipmentsAct,” was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on June 17. This bill grants governors the authority to initiate the federal back-to-work injunction process—a Taft-Hartley power currently reserved only for the president.
A third bill was introduced June 18 by Sen. James Risch (R-ID) which amends the National Labor Relations Act and make intentional slowdowns by maritime unions illegal. S.1630, the Preventing Labor Union Slowdowns Act, was also referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The bill aims to codify an injunction on slowdowns. It also empowers injured parties, including importers and exporters, to seek monetary retribution from unions.
Following passage by the House of Representatives on May 19, the Senate approved a two-month extension of MAP-21 on May 23, and President Obama signed the bill into law less than a week later. H.R. 2353, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015, will extend authorization of highway programs through July 31, 2015, a two-month extension beyond the previous May 31 deadline. The bill brings the expiration of surface transportation policy more closely in line with the timeframe the Highway Trust Fund is projected to become insolvent.
In a joint press release on the passage of the short-term extension, Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced they would markup their six-year authorization bill on June 24. In addition to the EPW Committee’s portion of the surface transportation authorization, the Senate Committees on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs will need to release and markup their portions of legislation.
For the House ’s part, the Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure will need to introduce a policy and programming proposal.
The Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways & Means Committees are tasked with finding revenue to support the policy and programming proposals developed by their respective authorizing committees. At this time, neither committee has introduced legislation that would pay for transportation programing beyond the July 31 deadline.
Both the Senate and the House moved forward with their respective FY16 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bills this month. On May 1, the House voted 240-117 to approve their version of the spending bill, which provides funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, among other agencies. Rep. Huizenga (R-MI) and Rep. Hahn (D-CA) successfully inserted an amendment appropriating an additional $36.3 million of funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to the Army Corps, bringing spending levels closer to the target set by the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, passed in 2013. The House measure now spends $1.178 billion out of the HMTF — the WRRDA FY16 target was $1.25 billion.
Meanwhile, on May 22, the Senate Energy & Water Development Appropriations bill was reported favorably by the full Appropriations Committee. The upper chamber ’s legislation is nearly identical to the version that passed the House but provides slightly more from the HMTF — $1.254 billion. The Senate Energy & Water Development Act now awaits a vote from the full chamber.
This month, House Appropriators favorably reported the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act of 2016. The bill sets Department of Transportation discretionary funding levels at $17.2 billion, $1.5 billion over FY15 funding levels, but $9.7 billion short of the amount the President requested in his budget. The bill contains a policy rider adding new requirements to the Hours of Service 34-hour restart provision study Congress ordered in the omnibus at the end of last year. Before the 34-hour restart provision can be reinstated, this bill requires the study to address safety benefits offered by the restart rule regarding a driver ’s fatigue, health, longevity, and work schedule. THUD FY16 also contains a provision allowing twin 33-foot trailers on interstate highways. Finally, the legislation seeks to block DOT from proceeding with a potential rule to increase the current $750,000 minimum amount of motor carrier liability insurance.
On May 12, Senate Commerce, Science, and Technology Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) introduced legislation aimed at providing Congress with port performance statistics. Citing the labor negotiation breakdown at West Coast ports earlier this year, Sen. Thune expressed the need for more standardized data and regular reporting on labor negotiations in a press release issued by his office. S. 1298, which is cosponsored by Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), requires the director of the Bureau of Transportation Statics to establish a port performance statistics program and report on performance and capacity every year to Congress. Furthermore, the legislation requires Congress receive updates before and during labor negotiations. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
On May 20, the Essential Transportation Worker Identification Credential Assessment Act was reported favorably by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology. Rep. Jackson Lee (D-TX) introduced H.R.710 in February, and the House quickly passed the bill under a suspension of the rules, a procedure reserved for legislation with a “supermajority” of support.
The bill directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to assess the Transportation Worker Identification Card program ’s effectiveness at enhancing national security. The bill also instructs the DHS Secretary to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the program. Rep. Jackson Lee (D-FL) ’s legislation prohibits a final rule on transportation security card readers until the GAO has a chance to comment on the report and the Secretary provides Congress with an updated list of transportation security card readers that are compatible with active transportation security cards. H.R. 710 now awaits action from the full Senate.
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), Chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation ’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, introduced a bill on May 21 to set national hiring standards for motor carriers. S. 1454, the “Transportation and Logistics Hiring Reform Act,” requires shippers and third parties to check a carrier ’s registration and insurance coverage, as well as a carrier ’s federal safety rating, before hiring the motor carrier. The legislation also includes a set of guidelines for shippers and intermediaries to use when selecting a motor carrier. The bill aims to protect shippers, truck freight brokers, and logistics providers from negligent hiring lawsuits.
In addition to reforming hiring practices, S. 1454 prohibits anything but the national hiring standard from being used as evidence against an entity in a civil action lawsuit. The bill also requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to complete its long-awaited Safety Fitness Determination Rule, which would link CSA data and carrier safety ratings, within 18 months of bill passage. Sen. Fischer ’s bill, cosponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), resembles legislation introduced by Rep. John Duncan, Jr. (R-TN) at the end of February.
On April 16, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) introduced S. 1006, the Positive Train Control Safety Act of 2015. Her bill would allow the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to grant one-year extensions, on a case-by-case basis. Under the legislation, a railroad applying for an extension would need to submit a revised implementation plan in order to be considered. Sen. Feinstein’s legislation sunsets on December 31, 2018, meaning all railroads would need to be compliant with the PTC mandate by that date.
In addition to allowing case-by-case PTC implementation extensions, the Positive Train Control Safety Act would require regular status reports from all railroads on their PTC implementation efforts, require trains carrying crude oil run on tracks with PTC, and require the Department of Transportation evaluate the effectiveness of PTC at grade crossings.
Sen. Feinstein’s bill was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee, which has already taken up legislation this session extending the PTC mandate deadline. Earlier this year, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced the bipartisan Positive Train Control Extension Act. The legislation would extend the statutory deadline for PTC implementation to December 2020 and was reported favorably by the Commerce Committee. It is now awaiting action from the full Senate.
With mere weeks until MAP-21 expires, Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) introduced legislation indexing the federal gas and diesel taxes to inflation. His bill, the Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act, has bipartisan support and 22 cosponsors at the time of print. According to Rep. Renacci’s office, indexing the gas tax to inflation would raise $27.3 billion, with all funds going into the Highway Trust Fund. Additionally, The Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act would mandate the creation of a “supercommittee,” charged with finding a longer-term revenue generator. Best estimates show that indexing the gas tax to inflation will only keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent for another 10 years; the “supercommittee” would need to settle on a long-term solution by September 2016 and Congress would have until the end of that year to act on the recommendations.
On March 16, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) reintroduced Safer Buses and Trucks Act of 2015, legislation that seeks to temporarily halt the publication of Compliance Safety Accountability scores until the system is reformed. To spur reform, Barletta’s bill requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration develop an improvement plan for the program, in partnership with the non-partisan National Academy of Public Administration. The improvement plan should include recommendations on how FMCSA might best utilize predictive crash safety data and appropriately address concerns related to the age of utilized safety data. H.R. 1371 also asks the improvement plan contain recommendations of how to incorporate at-fault crash data and defines exactly what should be considered “free from fault” data. Finally, the bill asks that the improvement plan acknowledge the differences between freight and passenger motor carriers and that the plan does not “unfairly harm small motor carriers as a result of limited safety data availability.”
Rep. Barletta’s bill gives FMCSA and the National Academy of Public Administration one year to compile the report and present it to Congress. The bill then gives the Secretary of Transportation 90 days to begin implementation of the recommendations included in the report. Finally, the bill asks the Secretary of Transportation to provide a report to Congress that assesses the recommendation implementations. Mr. Barletta’s bill has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
On March 25, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee reported favorably the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015. No amendments were introduced or voted on during the markup. S. 808, introduced a week earlier by Committee Chairman Thune (R-SD), is a modified version of the legislation former Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced and reported out of Committee at the close of the 113th Congress.
Like last year’s bill, S. 808 increases the number of members that serve on the Surface Transportation Board from three to five. The legislation also allows the STB to initiate investigations, albeit with restrictions. Under present law, the STB can only open an investigation once someone has filed a complaint and paid a fee. The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2015 requires the STB to establish a database of complaints and prepare quarterly reports on these complaints. The bill also mandates the STB establish timelines for addressing rate complaints. Finally, the legislation seeks to codify arbitration processes for certain rate disputes and carrier complaints.
Chief among the changes made by Chairman Thune to Sen. Rockefeller’s legislation is toning down the section that would have authorized the STB to conduct investigations at-will. S. 808 expands on the Board’s current ability but includes a long list of restrictions pertaining to how long the investigation can last and what due process rights must be provided to the railroads being investigated. Also noteworthy is S.808’s removal of provisions allowing STB commissioners to serve life terms if the Senate was unable to confirm replacement nominees. Finally, S. 808 removed a section of Sen. Rockefeller’s bill that would have allowed the STB to initiate one-sided proceedings to investigate multiple origin-to-destination movements. More about that below. Thune’s legislation asks for a study by the Comptroller General on rail transportation contract proposals containing multiple origin-to-destination movements.
The Rail Shipper Fairness Act of 2015, introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), seeks to address rail shipping delays by implementing competitive switching. The bill also clarifies the Surface Transportation Board’s authority to address service emergencies and grows the STB from three to five members. Furthermore, S. 853 reforms maximum rate case regulations, including shifting the burden of proof to railroads in stand-alone cost cases and eliminating the qualitative market dominance test. Sen. Baldwin’s bill also makes structural reforms at the STB, including requiring regular public meetings and ensuring two STB members have rail shipper or consumer advocacy background. Finally, the bill expands fines and equitable damages that railroads can be forced to pay for poor service.
Sen. Baldwin previously called for STB reform in a bipartisan letter to the STB, dated October 8, 2014. She was joined by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). At time of print, Sen. Baldwin was the only sponsor of S. 853.
On March 25, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a measure to delay the Positive Train Control mandate on passenger and freight railroads. The current statutory deadline for PTC implementation is December 31, 2015. The Railroad Safety and Positive Train Control Extension Act would apply to automatic braking technology on all passenger-rail only tracks and on any tracks that are shared by freight and passenger trains. It would extend the implementation deadline to December 31, 2020.
During Committee markup, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) offered an amendment requiring railroads to publish public reports on the progress they’ve made in completing the PTC mandate. Democrats may have additional amendments to offer if and when the entire Senate considers the bill.
A bill to create a National Freight Program and provide dedicated funding for freight projects has been reintroduced in the House. H.R. 1308, Economy in Motion: The National Multimodal and Sustainable Freight Infrastructure Act, was authored by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and is supported by original cosponsor Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). The bill would apply a one percent waybill fee on the transportation cost of good, paid by the entity paying for the transportation service. According to Rep. Lowenthal’s office, the waybill fee would raise roughly $8 billion per year and the money would be deposited into a firewalled Freight Transportation Infrastructure Fund. Revenues would be distributed through two freight-specific grant programs. The first would be a formula system; each state would receive funds based on the amount of existing freight infrastructure it has within its state. A prerequisite for attaining the funds would be the development and maintenance of a State Freight Advisory Committee and a State Freight Plan. The second distribution method would be through a competitive grant program, with eligible applicants including local, regional, and state governments.
On March 30, the Obama Administration transmitted the text of their surface transportation proposal to Congress. Dubbed by Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx a “new and improved” GROW AMERICA Act, “GROW 2.0&rdqou; is a six year, $478 billion bill. The duration of the original GROW AMEWRICA Act was four years and the bill called for $302 billion in funding.
This year, the Administration has also gotten more specific about how they would fund their legislation. The $478 price tag is paid for with a roughly 50 /50 split of fuel tax revenues and a one-time, mandatory tax on corporate offshore profits held by U.S.-based companies. These funds would be directed into a new Transportation Trust Fund. A Highway Account would be established as part of the TTF, along with a Transit Account, Rail Account, and Multimodal Account.
In addition to increasing the duration and funding totals in the new GROW AMERICA Act, the Administration has increased the funding totals it would like to see for freight programs. GROW 2.0 provides $18 billion, over six years, for targeted investments aimed at improving the movement of freight. That’s an $8 billion increase from the original GROW AMERICA Act, which requested $10 billion, over four years.
GROW 2.0 maintains the funding disbursement methods that appear in the original bill. 50 percent of revenues would be distributed through a formula approach, calculated by taking into account the percent of freight facilities in the state and the value and tonnage of freight moving through the state. Funds distributed through this formula would be contingent upon the ability of a state to create a State Freight Advisory Committee and a State Freight Plans. The other 50 percent of freight funds would be distributed through a national grant program and money would be awarded to projects that benefit freight movement across all modes.
Addressing the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security, IANA Chairman Katie Farmer, BNSF’s group vice president for consumer products, testified to the impact of supply chain disruptions on BNSF’s intermodal operations. The February 10 hearing took place before an agreement was reached between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). Concerned by negative impacts being felt across the supply chain, Subcommittee Chairman Deb Fischer (R-NE) called for the hearing to facilitate a discussion on the economic and logistical impact of port delays, congestion, and inadequate or outdated infrastructure on our nation’s intermodal transportation network. Ms. Farmer said that BNSF invested swiftly in anticipation of the post-recession uptick. The company purchased an abundance of new equipment, such as locomotives and rail cars, and now that movements have slowed drastically, BNSF has been forced to store that equipment along the track system, creating a ripple effect that slows trains operating on the mainline, Ms. Farmer testified.
Ms. Farmer noted several factors contributing to growing port congestion, including the effect of inadequate port infrastructure needed to handle larger ships, growing commercial and residential development around the ports, limited infrastructure adjacent to the ports, port operating restrictions from local communities, and operating inefficiencies. These factors, paired with growing freight volumes, will lead to increased congestion. To assist in remedying these issues, Ms. Farmer suggested Congress consider providing federal funding for nationally or regionally significant high-cost infrastructure projects, like port projects that facilitate international trade and relieve congestion. Ms. Farmer also testified to the importance of private freight rails’ investment in networks to keep pace with growing freight volumes, stressing the ability to make these investments depends upon reasonable earnings and a constructive regulatory environment.
Other hearing witnesses included Mr. John Greuling, board member of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors; Mr. Norman Bessac, vice president of international sales at Cargill; and Dr. Walter Kemmsies, chief economist at Moffatt & Nichol.
Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-Tenn.), who serves as Vice Chairman of the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced a bill on February 26 to establish a national hiring standard for motor carriers, aiming to reduce liability exposure to shippers, third-party logistic providers, and brokers. The bill would require the following assurances are made before motor carriers are hired: the carrier must have at least the minimum insurance required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA; the carrier must be properly registered with the FMCSA; and the carrier’s safety performance cannot be rated “unsatisfactory” by the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program. The bill, H.R. 1120, is cosponsored by Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Erik Paulsen (R – Minn.). The legislation was also introduced in the 113th Congress.
On February 3, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced a legislative duo seeking to raise transportation revenue. The Update, Promote, and Develop America’s Transportation Essentials Act of 2015 and the Road Usage Charge Pilot Program Act of 2015 were both reintroduced by the Congressman; the proposals were originally introduced in December of 2013, but failed to make it out of Committee.
The UPDATE Act, H.R. 680, gradually grows the federal motor fuel taxes over three years, increasing the per-gallon tax on gasoline and diesel fuels to 33.4 cents and 39.4 cents per gallon, respectively. Once the tax increase is fully implemented, the UPDATE Act would index the tax to inflation. According to figures from Rep. Blumenauer’s office, the bill would raise almost $170 billion over the next ten years, at which point it would eliminate the tax increase and revert to the current per-gallon tax rates. The bill also contains a “Sense of Congress” calling for the implementation of a long term funding solution in 10 years.
The Road Usage Charge Pilot Program Act, H.R. 679, would establish a competitive grant program to fund Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) pilot projects nationwide. These VMT programs would tax users based on distance traveled as opposed to the per gallon federal fuel tax, eliminating the disparity caused by varying vehicle fuel efficiencies. The bill sets aside $30 million in initial funding for the grant program and would prioritize projects that involve multiple states, while setting aside 10 percent of the proposed funding for pilot studies conducted in conjunction with metropolitan planning organizations or regional transportation planning organizations.
On February 11, the House passed the Essential Transportation Worker Identification Credential Assessment Act. H.R. 710, sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). It was first introduced in 2013 but died at the end of the 113th Congress. The legislation directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to evaluate the effectiveness of the transportation security card program and submit an assessment to Congress within a year of enactment. The legislation also requires the Secretary to provide Congress with a corrective action plan for the program, which should include an evaluation of the extent to which the program has addressed known or likely security risks. Within 18 months of issuance of the corrective action plan, and every six months for the next three years, the Comptroller General, who directs the Government Accountability Office, must report to Congress on the implementation of the Secretary’s corrective action plan.
The bill also seeks to prohibit DHS from issuing a final rule requiring the use of transportation security card readers until two steps are taken. First, the Secretary of Homeland Security must provide Congress with an updated list of transportation security card readers that are compatible with active transportation secretary cards. Second, the Comptroller General must inform Congress that the corrective action plan issued by the Secretary is responsive to recommendations issued from academia, the Comptroller and Congress itself.
H.R. 710 was passed in the House on a suspension of rules, a procedure reserved for bills that already have a “supermajority” of support. No amendments can be offered on the floor and debate is limited under a suspension of rules. By fast-tracking H.R. 710, the House is providing ample time for the Senate to take up the legislation and get a bill to the President for his signature.
The National Freight Network Trust Fund Act of 2015 was reintroduced on February 12 by Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA) and referred to the House Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure and Ways and Means. The bill has 11 cosponsors, including Congressional PORTS Caucus co-chair and co-founder Ted Poe (R-TX). The legislation proposes to deposit 5 percent of all import duties collected by Customs and Border Protection into a newly created National Freight Network Trust Fund. Rep. Hahn’s office estimates the diversion would generate roughly $2 billion every year, to be used for road and rail network improvements. The bill is similar to a proposal she and Rep. Poe introduced last Congress.
Shortly after Rep. Hahn introduced the Freight Network Trust Fund Act, she announced her intent to retire from Congress at the end of this term and run for Los Angeles County supervisor. Her seat in Congress is considered safe for Democrats; according to Politico, President Obama won 85 percent of the vote there in 2012. Rep. Hahn was elected to Congress during a 2011 special election to fill a vacant seat.
On February 13, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) introduced a bill titled Safe and Fair Environment on Highways Achieved through Underwriting Levels Act of 2015, or SAFE HAUL. The bill seeks to raise required insurance minimums for motor carriers from $750,000 to $4,532,550. Rep. Cartwright has two cosponsors, both Democrats. The Congressman introduced similar legislation in the 113th Congress, but the bill died in Committee at the end of the 113th Congress.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is also considering increasing insurance minimums for motor carriers. In November, the agency issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking the public to weigh in on revising the minimums. Comments were due February 26.
>The 114th Congress convened on Jan. 6, and within weeks, newly sworn-in lawmakers from both parties set about addressing the looming expiration of MAP-21 and the dwindling revenues in the Highway Trust Fund. On Jan. 28, the Senate Democratic Caucus invited stakeholders to a roundtable titled “Rebuilding America’s Transportation Infrastructure.” At the roundtable, participants and Senators alike stated their preference for a long-term, multimodal transportation bill with sustainable funding. The same day the roundtable convened, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, responsible for drafting the highway policy in the surface transportation bill, held a hearing titled “The Importance of Map-21 Reauthorization: Federal and State Perspectives.” They invited U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to testify, as well as several governors from states around the country. During his testimony, Secretary Foxx reiterated his commitment to working with Congress to identify funding sources for a bill and re-stated that it was the Administrations preference to pay for the bill with tax reform. While neither EPW Committee Chair Jim Inhofe (R-OK) nor Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) mentioned a timetable for getting a reauthorization bill out of committee, during the hearing both Senators emphasized that doing so was their top priority.
On Jan. 29, the Senate Commerce Committee, responsible for drafting the non-highway titles of the surface transportation reauthorization, convened a Subcommittee on Surface Transportation hearing titled “Improving the Performance of our Transportation Networks: Stakeholder Perspectives.” Ed Rendell, Chairman of Building America’s Future and former Pennsylvania Governor, testified that the U.S. infrastructure system will soon be at a point of disrepair and called for an immediate increase of the federal motor fuels taxes, saying that states cannot be left to raise this money alone. Mr. Douglas Means, a representative of private industry, used his testimony to emphasize the multimodal needs of the transportation system. Mr. Means, a Vice President at Cabela’s, called for improved first and last mile connectors, saying his company supports legislation that improves the fluidity of the multimodal supply chain.
The House is also focused on the May 31 MAP-21 extension deadline. Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) has scheduled a two-part hearing in February titled “Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill: Laying the Foundation for U.S. Economic Growth and Job Creation.” The first hearing will be held February 11. Additionally, Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who sits on Ways & Means, the Committee responsible for funding the House reauthorization proposal, reported to stakeholders in January that the Ways & Means Committee will likely hold a hearing on the issue of transportation funding this year.
On Jan. 20, Representatives John Delaney (D-MD) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced the Partnership to Build America Act of 2015. The bill is identical to the bipartisan legislation introduced in 2013 and proposes using corporate tax reform to rebuild America’s aging infrastructure. The bill would create an American Infrastructure Fund, a $50 billion dollar pot of money to be used by states and municipalities to finance transportation, energy, communications, water, and education infrastructure projects. Under the proposal, U.S. corporations would be allowed to repatriate approximately $4 of their overseas earning, tax free, for every $1 they invest in the bonds. Structured at a 15:1 ratio, the American Infrastructure Fund would be leveraged to $750 billion and capitalized by the sale of 50-year bonds.
The Partnership to Build America Act of 2013 secured deep bipartisan support last Congress and a companion bill was introduced by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). So far this Congress, H.R. 413 has 34 cosponsors — 17 Democrats and 17 Republicans — and several Senators from both parties have mentioned plans to re-introduce the legislation in their chamber.
On Jan. 13, new Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Member Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced the Gas Tax Replacement Act of 2015, a bill that would eliminate the gas tax and replace it with a $50 per-metric-ton tax on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Under the proposed legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency would oversee the new carbon tax and the $50 per-metric-ton rate would be subject to change. The Gas Tax Replacement Act would require the EPA to develop life-cycle assessments for various sources of crude oil, biofuels, and other inputs into gas and diesel fuels for surface vehicle transportation. The life-cycle assessment would then be used to calculate the total emissions from the vehicle, as well as the emissions during production and extraction processes. Based on EPA’s findings, the $50 per-metric-ton rate would be altered.
The carbon tax is sometimes mentioned, along with a gas tax increase, a vehicle-miles-traveled tax, and repatriation, as a potential source of revenue for the next surface transportation reauthorization bill.
Late in the evening on December 9, Senate and House leadership announced a deal on an omnibus spending package funding most of the federal government through September 30, 2015. The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 went on to pass both chambers of Congress and was signed into law by President Obama on December 16. The law includes several important provisions for transportation interests, including a section that defunds the enforcement of the 34-hour restart provision for one year and mandates the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conduct a field study assessing the operational, safety, health and fatigue impacts of the restart provision.
The Hours of Service restart suspension originally appeared as an amendment to the Transportation Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act. Introduced by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the amendment passed in a committee vote and was included in the version of the bill reported to the full Senate. In response, Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced an amendment on the Senate floor reinstating the funding for the provision. There was no vote on the amendment or the bill, due to unrelated procedural disagreements, but the suspension was eventually rolled in the omnibus that was signed by Obama on December 16. With the President ’s signature, 34-hour restart rules automatically revert to regulations in effect June 30, 2013. In other words, a driver ’s week can be restarted more than once during a seven day period and drivers are no longer required to take two consecutive 1:00 – 5:00 a.m. “off duty ”periods within the 34-hours.
Also of note to transportation interests is that the omnibus sets FY15 funding for TIGER at $500 million. This is a significant increase from the $100 million requested by the House, but less than the $550 million the Senate requested. Additionally, the omnibus falls about $66 million short of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund spend-down goal set in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.
Passed in Congress by unanimous consent and signed by President Obama on December 18, the Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 reauthorizes funding for the Coast Guard, the Federal Maritime Commission and the small shipyard competitive grant program. Additionally, the bill enhances Congressional oversight by requiring the Coast Guard to submit an annual authorization request to Congress to justify its funding levels.
The Howard Coble Act reforms the FMC by limiting commissioner terms to two five-year terms. The bill also prohibits a commissioner from serving more than one year after term expiration, even if a replacement has not been confirmed by the Senate. The bill codifies current conflict of interest prohibitions that might be encountered by commissioners. Finally, the bill requires the development of a comprehensive National Maritime Strategy by requiring the Secretary of Transportation to produce recommendations on how to reduce regulatory burdens and improve national competitiveness.
Representative John Delaney (D-Md.) introduced H.R. 5857 shortly before the 113th Congress adjourned. The Infrastructure and Global Tax Competitiveness Act would create an 8.75 percent tax on repatriated funds and the money would go towards shoring up the Highway Trust Fund for six years. This 8.75 percent rate was also proposed by outgoing House Ways & Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) in his tax reform proposal. The tax would apply to profits accumulated by U.S. multi-national corporations and replace deferral options and the current 35 percent tax rate.
Rep. Delaney ’s legislation also seeks to put $50 million in a new American Infrastructure Fund, which would provide money to state and local governments seeking project financing. The repatriation and infrastructure bank portions are similar to a May 2013 Delaney-sponsored bill, the Partnership to Build America Act, which garnered 39 Republican and 37 Democratic cosponsors in the House and one Independent, seven Republican, and seven Democratic cosponsors in the Senate. The Infrastructure and Global Tax Competiveness Act goes a step further by providing money specifically for the Highway Trust Fund, as opposed to a separate infrastructure financing account.
With what is scheduled to be an abridged lame duck session to close the 113th Congress, ambitions and visions of large-scale transportation legislation – such as revenue raisers — dwindle with the days. Leading the charge to enact a gas tax increase during the lame duck was Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), who spent much of fall not campaigning for reelection, but campaigning to grow a coalition of support in favor of such a measure. He reasoned that the lame duck presented a window during which a number of outgoing Members of Congress would be more inclined to vote for a tax increase, the 2016 presidential election is not yet in focus, and there could be enough time between a vote and the next Congressional election cycle to give Members a cushion of comfort that their seat would not be jeopardized by a “yea” vote. Despite efforts by Senator Carper and his supporters, it seems the cry did not grow loud enough for action by either chamber.
What remains on the lame duck docket are a number of “must-do” items, including a slate of appropriations package that will most likely be rolled into an omnibus package and moved swiftly to avoid a prolonged stay in Washington by Members of Congress prior to the New Year. Included among these appropriations bills is the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, or THUD, that funds the Department of Transportation and programs outside the Highway Trust Fund, including TIGER and highway safety enforcement. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) is expected to resume her campaign to suspend changes to the Hours of Service rule’s restart provisions by defunding enforcement of the provisions. Senator Collins gained a bipartisan cadre of support for her amendment when the THUD bill moved out of its namesake appropriations subcommittee in June. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chairwoman of the full Senate Appropriations Committee, stands in opposition of Senator Collins’ adopted amendment. Current appropriations extenders will expire on December 11.
With voters heading to the polls November 4, election outcomes are likely to affect everything from transportation regulations to funding levels over the next two years. A flip in the Senate, which the New York Times forecasts has more than 2:1 odds of occurring, will give Republicans ownership over the entire surface transportation drafting process, with only the presidential veto to contend with.
Both Hours of Service and the practice of publishing driver Safety Measurement System scores are likely to be addressed in the near future, as evidenced by the FY2015 appropriations process this past spring. Even before the surface transportation bill expires, appropriators will debate the HOS program when they resume work on the FY2015 THUD appropriations bill after the election. Sen. Collins (R-ME) rallied colleagues on both sides of the aisle to successfully pass, by a margin of 21-9, an amendment to the Senate THUD markup bill defunding enforcement of the 34-hour restart provision, which mandates that drivers are off the clock from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. for two-consecutive nights and the restart can only take place once per week. In response, Senator Booker (D-NJ) introduced an amendment on the Senate floor reinstating the HOS regulations that had been struck by Sen. Collins. While the THUD bill was ultimately postponed due to procedural disagreements, Sens. Collins and Booker placed stakes in the ground in a fight that’s sure to continue both in the appropriations process and in the surface transportation authorization negotiations.
Another question that stakeholders hope to see answered next spring is the future of FMCSA’s SMS score publication. A February 2014 GAO report heavily criticized the SMS’ effectiveness in identifying high-risk carriers and in May, trade associations petitioned DOT to remove the scores from public view. Congressmen Lou Barletta (R-PA) responded by introducing the Safer Trucks and Buses Act of 2014 which would prohibit FMCSA from publishing CSA scores on its website until the agency makes recommendations to Congress on how to improve the scoring system. Transplace CEO Tom Sanderson predicts that if the Republicans take the Senate, they’ll be more likely to provide relief from the publication of SMS scores, whether it’s by pulling the scores entirely or revamping the system to the satisfaction of concerned lawmakers.
Also in question if Republicans take control of the Senate is the future of the TIGER discretionary grant program. In earlier iterations of the program House Republicans showed reluctance to fund the competitive grant program, but in FY2015 negotiations, the lower chamber set funding levels at $100 million and have consistently shown a willingness to negotiate further. TIGER has earned bipartisan support over the past few budget cycles and the program is likely to continue whether or not Republicans regain the majority in the Senate.
On September 10, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduced the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2014 to overhaul a number of key rail safety laws and bolster funding for rail safety technology grants, in response to several high profile accidents. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
The Rail Safety Improvement Act reaffirms the December 31, 2015 positive train control implementation deadline and requires additional use of modern inspection technology and a greater degree of speed restrictions enforcement. The bill also mandates inward and outward facing cameras and increased track inspections, as recommended by a blue ribbon panel that studied and issued recommendations in the aftermath of the New York Metro-North crash in 2013. Additionally, the bill would strengthen the FRA’s enforcement powers by increasing civil penalties for unsafe activity to $1 million for “grossly negligent violations” or repeated violations resulting in death or injury.
Finally, the legislation authorizes an increase in funding for the Federal Railroad Administration’s railroad safety technology grants. Current law sets authorization levels at $50 million per fiscal year; this bill increases that amount to $1 billion for FY2015 and FY2016 and then adjusts the level back to $250 million for each of the years FY2017 through FY2020.
A proposal designed to improve the efficiency and accessibility of the Surface Transportation Board was introduced on September 17 by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD), respectively the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The bill makes the STB independent from the Department of Transportation and increases the number of members that serve on the board from three to five. The legislation also strengthens the role of the STB by giving the agency power to initiate investigations, rather than react when a complaint is filed, and creates opt-in arbitration powers. The proposal would advance high-priority STB proceedings, including reviewing revenue adequacy determinations and evaluating mandatory competitive switching.
The bill has been met with support from shippers, while railroads continue to sort out the implications. In a September 17 statement, the Association of American Railroads cautioned that the bill would “harm the nation’s railroads’ ability to move what the economy demands and deliver the service shippers expect.” During a September 17 markup, the bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, but before placing affirmative votes many Republicans on the committee voiced their hopes to be included in decision-making as the bill progresses.
Representative Lou Barletta (R-PA) introduced the Safer Trucks and Buses Act of 2014 shortly before the House recessed for October campaigning. Designed to correct what Congressman Barletta referred to as the “publication of flawed safety scores,” H.R. 5532 prohibits the Secretary of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from disseminating Compliance Safety Accountability scores on their website or garnishing scores to the public upon request. The bill also prohibits CSA scores from serving as evidence in liability cases.
Within one year of passage, the Secretary of Transportation must submit to Congress a report on how to improve FMCSA’s CSA program, including recommendations on how best to: utilize and generate scores predictive of motor carrier accidents; appropriately address concerns relating to the age of utilized safety data; and satisfactorily address the differences between freight and passenger motor carriers with regards to CSA score calculations.
Retirements, term expirations, and the possibility of a Republican-controlled Senate will shift dynamics in the 114th Congress. Changes in committee leadership beginning in January could greatly impact the development of a long-term surface transportation authorization, which is unique in that it requires contributions from multiple committees in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
If Republicans maintain control of the House, as they’re widely expected to, Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA) will continue as Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Less secure in his seat is the Committee’s Ranking Member, Nick Rahall (D-WV), who is campaigning in a district thought to potentially serve as a pickup for Republicans. Representatives Shuster and Rahall have a good working relationship, shepherding a bi-partisan WRRDA bill through the House earlier this year, and many hoped that cooperative spirit would carry through a MAP-21 reauthorization cycle.
On the Senate side, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) will retire at the end of this year, ending his reign as Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation. Complicating the Senator’s retirement and the promotion of a current rank-and-file committee member to the top spot is the possibility that the Senate could become controlled by Republicans in the mid-term elections. In other words, whoever takes Rockefeller’s place may not actually chair the committee. Commerce Committee Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) is not up for reelection and pending the party switch, he would be first in line to helm the committee. In the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is not up for reelection this cycle. However, the Committee’s Ranking Member, David Vitter (R-LA), has announced he’s running for Governor of Louisiana in 2015 and will likely leave mid-session if elected to the top state spot. Unclear is whether his replacement would serve as ranking member or chair; a flip in the Senate would give the next-in-line individual significantly more sway over long-term transportation legislation.
On July 31, mere minutes before Senators were scheduled to leave town for a five-week recess, they voted 81-13 to pass H.R. 5021, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014. This short-term bailout authorizes the transfer of $11 billion to the Highway Trust Fund, projecting solvency through May 31, 2015. The bailout is paid for by pension smoothing, a transfer from the Leaking Underground Storage Trust Fund, and an extension of customs duties. The bill now goes to the President’s desk, where it is expected to be signed.
The large margin of victory for the legislation masked contentious deliberations and an 11th hour vote. The House bill, transmitted to the upper chamber on July 15, was not taken up by the Senate until July 29, just two days before the start of August recess. Several Republicans crossed party lines to vote to amend the House legislation. A Carper-Corker-Boxer amendment shorted the bill’s duration from May 31, 2015 to mid-December 2014 and a Wyden-Hatch substitute amended the tax provisions of the bill, increasing reliance on customs-duties revenues. After H.R. 5021 was amended, the bill was sent back to the House, which promptly rejected the Senate’s version of the legislation. The Senate then had two choices — they could recede from their amendments to the House bill and clear the way for the legislation to go to the President or they could face criticism for the delay of payments to state transportation projects. They chose the former.
Both House and Senate committees involved in drafting a long-term surface transportation bill have stated intentions to use the next eight months to come up with a long-term successor to MAP-21. However, the enactment of H.R. 5021, resulting in an eight-month extension of MAP-21, alleviates the 113th Congress of acting further, unless it so chooses.
The House voted to pass the Essential Transportation Worker Identification Credential Assessment Act on July 29, sending the legislation to the Senate. H.R. 3202, introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to assess the effect the transportation security card program has had on enhancing security and reducing security risks at maritime facilities and on vessels. The legislation also instructs the Secretary to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the program and issue a corrective action plan based on that assessment. Finally, the bill seeks to prohibit the Secretary from issuing a final rule requiring the use of transportation security card readers until the GAO has a chance to comment on the report and the Secretary provides Congress with an updated list of transportation security card readers that are compatible with active transportation secretary cards.
The legislation enjoyed broad bi-partisan support in the House, with Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) both signing on as cosponsors and the bill passing with a unanimous voice vote. H.R. 3202 was received in the Senate on July 29 and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Representative Janice Hahn (D-CA) on July 14 introduced H.R. 5101, the National Freight Network Trust Fund Act of 2014. As indicated in its namesake, the bill would establish a National Freight Network Trust Fund and distribute, on a competitive basis, payments to projects that improve the performance of the National Freight Network.
The trust fund established by Rep. Hahn’s bill would receive five percent of duties collected on imports to the United States, which is currently being deposited into the General Fund of the Treasury. Estimates provided by the Representative’s office show that Customs and Border Protection currently collects $38 billion every year in customs duties, meaning that around $1.9 billion would be transferred to the new freight trust fund.
The National Freight Network Grant Program, housed within the Department of Transportation, would fund projects that generate national economic benefits, improve the performance of key corridors and gateways, reduce congestion, improve transportation safety or enhance the national freight network. Under the bill, eligible funding applicants would include states, regional or local transportation organizations, and port authorities.
Project eligibility includes roads and rail lines that connect the Primary Freight Network to a port, on-dock rail, projects appearing in state or regional freight plans, high freight volume roadways or rail corridors that provide connectivity for ports, intermodal connectors, multimodal freight facilities, multistate freight corridors, international borders, and railway-highway grade separations. Rep. Hahn’s legislation would also require the National Freight Network, established by MAP-21, be updated every five years; currently it must be updated every 10 years.
The Senate FY15 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations legislation was steadily progressing through the Senate before disagreements over procedural rules derailed any momentum the bill had. On Tuesday, June 19 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) requested that all amendments on the floor be subject to a “60 vote affirmative threshold,” a request for which he needs unanimous consent. Senate Republicans had proposed several greenhouse gas emission-related amendments that possibly would have passed with a simple majority, due to a few moderate Democrats crossing over to vote with Republicans, and Senator Reid did not want that to happen. When Republicans refused to grant him unanimous consent to submit amendments to a 60 vote affirmative threshold, Senator Reid tabled the THUD bill and turned to other matters. At this point, it is unclear whether Senator Reid will bring the measure back up and use other procedural methods to avoid giving Republicans the chance to offer their amendments, or if the next step will involve the passage of a short-term continuing resolution to fund FY15 THUD appropriations.
The Senate THUD bill provides $54.4 billion in discretionary spending authority; the House THUD bill calls for $52 billion. A large part of this discrepancy comes from the increased levels of funding provided in the Senate version of the bill for the Federal Transit Administration and Amtrak. The Senate bill also provides more funding for TIGER grants; the upper chamber has allocated $550 million for FY2015 TIGER, while the lower chamber set funding levels for the program at $100 million. If the Senate manages to pass the THUD bill, a conference will determine the final levels set for the FY2015 TIGER program funding. Because THUD was tabled in the Senate, the brewing Hours of Service disagreement between Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has yet to happen. During the Appropriations Committee markup, Sen. Collins offered an amendment that defunds the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. two-consecutive-night ban and the once-a-week clock reset provision until September 2015 and requested that FMCSA conduct a study of the two new provisions during the interim. Sen. Collin’s amendment passed with a bipartisan vote of 21-9. However, Senator Booker announced that he would introduce an amendment on the Senate floor reinstating the Hours of Service regulations that Senator Susan Collins’ amendment had postponed. Because the bill has not yet passed the Senate, current hours of service rules are still in effect.
On June 19, Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) unveiled a bipartisan proposal to raise the federal motor fuels tax by twelve cents over the next two years, in efforts to shore up the Highway Trust Fund. Under this plan, taxes on gas would increase 6 cents in each of the next two years in order to provide enough funding for the current MAP-21 projected spending levels for the next 10 years, totaling approximately $164 billion. Following the 12 cents total raise over the initial two years, the gas tax would be indexed to inflation using the Consumer Price Index. The current 18.4-cent federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993. The proposal also includes an idea for creating a business and family tax relief system in order to offset the revenue raised from the increase.
Senators Corker and Murphy have yet to introduce legislative text to accompany their proposal. The strategy behind this is to gauge industry and Congressional reaction to the initiative and at the same time confer with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Wyden (D-OR) and other members of the Finance Committee to incorporate the the tax increase into surface transportation reauthorization. There is also concern that introducing this legislation on the Senate floor would force vulnerable Senators to take a position on it during an election year. Instead, Senators Corker and Murphy hope to either incorporate the proposal into the Finance Committee’s surface transportation reauthorization proposal or act on it during the lame duck session late this fall.
A similar bill outlining a gas tax increase was introduced in December of last year by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). His bill would raise the federal gas tax by 15 cents per gallon, as called for by the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission.
On June 26, Senator Wyden (D-OR), Chairman of the Finance Committee, shared a draft of his mark titled “The Preserving America’s Transit and Highways Act.” The PATH Act would extend the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund through December 31, 2014 and give the Finance Committee additional time to come up with a long-term surface transportation bill. The original mark contained a provision that would have increased the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, but that provision was scrapped when Chairman Wyden, facing opposition from Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and other Republicans, introduced a second version of his proposal during the Committee’s markup. After allowing Finance Committee members to make opening remarks, Sen. Wyden adjourned the markup and announced plans to work with Sen. Hatch and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) during the July 4th recess to further amend the mark so as to garner more Republican support in the House.
Senator Wyden seems committed to finding revenue offsets that would garner support from Republicans. Sen. Hatch is insisting that the tax-increases-to-spending-cuts ratio in the legislation improves to garner favor with Republicans. Demonstrating his commitment to finding a short-term solution, Sen. Wyden has made several concessions to Sen. Hatch in addition to eliminating the HVUT provision. These include agreeing to a $750 million transfer from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund to the Highway Trust Fund (a compromise on Hatch’s part too — he had originally requested a $1 billion transfer). During markup, Senator Hatch stated that Representative Camp seemed enthusiastic at the idea of coming up with a mutually-agreed upon short-term bailout, using a combination of tax reforms, and that all parties hoped to report substantial progress upon returning from July 4th recess.
On May 22, the Senate voted to approve the conference report for the Water Resources and Reform Development Act, sending the bill to the President to be signed. The legislation is the result of months of negotiations between conferees to resolve differences in the Senate and House water development bills. WRRDA will increase spending from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund so that by FY 2025, and for each year thereafter, 100 percent of funds collected through the Harbor Maintenance Tax will go towards operation and maintenance activities at ports and harbors. Donor and energy transfer ports will receive additional discretionary appropriations for expanded uses, including berths and the dredging of contaminated sediment, or environmental remediation. If necessary floors for HMTF expenditures are met, appropriations of $50 million annually would be authorized for donor ports from FY 2015 through FY 2018.
WRRDA also calls for streamlining the permitting process by limiting Army Corps of Engineers feasibility studies to three years and $3 million in federal costs per study. The requirement that a reconnaissance study is completed prior to the initiation of a feasibility study is also eliminated. The final legislation authorizes 34 projects while deauthorizing 18 projects and modifying eight additional projects. Congress retains final authority to authorize a project in WRRDA; any project included in the Army Corp. of Engineer’s “Report to Congress on Future Water Resources Development,” is eligible for authorization. In a report released on May 20, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the conference report would cost $5.4 billion from 2015-2019. In contrast, the original House and Senate bills were estimated to cost $3.5 and $5.7 billion, respectively, over that time span.
With the current surface transportation bill slated to expire at the end of September, leadership from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee took the first action in developing the next transportation bill, approving the highway portion, called the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act, on May 15. The Senate’s proposal would fund the Highway Trust Fund at FY 2014 levels and index expenditures to inflation for the life of the six year bill. In order to maintain solvency, the HTF will need an annual infusion of around $16 billion, which the Senate Finance Committee is responsible for finding.
The legislation also includes a national freight program, which will provide $6 billion over the last five years of the bill, and maintains the Primary Freight Network under a different name, the Primary Freight Highway Network. The proposal would also fund Projects of National and Regional Significance at $400 million per year. The PNRS program was originally authorized for funding under the current surface transportation bill, MAP-21, but no money was appropriated. The bill also allows local governments, public authorities, port authorities, and political subdivisions of states to apply for funding as part of the PNRS program funding in addition to lowering the project cost threshold to $350 million from $500 million.
The Environment and Public Works Committee is not the only Senate committee with jurisdiction over surface transportation. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is responsible for the safety and rail sections of the proposal and the Committees on Banking and Finance have the authority to develop transit and funding portions of any final bill.
House appropriators took the first step this month in passing legislation to fund the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development for FY 2015. The bill, which was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on May 21, sets discretionary funding levels for DOT at $17.1 billion in FY 2015 and maintains funding for the Highway Trust Fund at $40 billion, equal to FY 2014 levels. Notable in this year’s bill is the inclusion of the TIGER Program, which stands to receive $100 million in FY 2015. This marks the first time that TIGER, which has consistently received funding from the Senate, has been appropriated money by the House.
Legislators inserted a provision into the bill that calls for DOT to update Congress on the progress of Positive Train Control implementation requirements. Current law mandates that railroads install PTC systems by December 31, 2015, though many in the industry have said they will have a hard time meeting that deadline. The bill also requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to report to Congress on the scientific evidence explaining safety benefits of the 34-hour restart provision of the Hours-of-Service rules that went into effect in July, 2013. FMCSA is also directed to determine what effect new HOS rules have on public safety and traffic as well as any other unintended consequences that are not addressed in the agency’s field study of the rules.
On April 10, the House of Representatives approved the FY 2015 budget from Chairman of the Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). The proposal, Rep. Ryan’s last as Chairman of the Budget Committee before he steps down due to Republican caucus term limit rules, calls for a one-year spending freeze from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) in order to recapitalize its coffers.
Rep. Ryan’s budget also includes two provisions related to the HTF that are designed to work together to set parameters for upcoming surface transportation reauthorization. The first clause is a “reserve fund” that would allow the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to bring a reauthorization bill that exceeds its spending allocation to maintain the solvency of the HTF while not increasing the deficit from FY 2015 to FY 2024. A mainstay in Rep. Ryan’s budgets, the second provision would prohibit transfers from the general fund to the HTF unless they are fully offset in budget authority during the same fiscal year. Despite clearing the House by a party-line vote just a few weeks prior, on April 29 Chairman Ryan assigned spending totals in line with the previously agreed to Murray-Ryan budget deal that maintains HTF spending.
Two months after President Obama unveiled his outline for surface transportation reauthorization, the Department of Transportation formally submitted its proposal to Congress on April 29. The bill, called the GROW AMERICA Act, is the first transportation authorization proposal to be sent to Congress by the Obama Administration and calls for an investment of $302 billion over the next four years. The bill includes $10 billion for freight projects over the life of the bill and provides an $87 billion injection into the Highway Trust Fund, which is projected to go bankrupt in August. The legislation also provides $19 billion in dedicated funding for rail programs as well as funding to aid in the implementation of Positive Train Control Systems. The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program will also be strengthened in the GROW AMERICA Act, with the goal of easing access of loans for regional and short line railroads.
The bill provides $5 billion to the Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery program over four years. The $10 billion for freight projects would be distributed through two programs. The first would have $5 billion available to be distributed, in the form of grants, to states that have created a state freight advisory council and a state freight plan while collaborating with neighboring states to analyze freight based needs. The amount of money given to qualifying states will be determined by a formula that takes into account the percent of freight facilities in that state relative to the rest of the nation, and the tonnage and value of freight moving through the state relative to the rest of the country. The second program is designed to support freight-related infrastructure investments and would use any of the remaining money from the state based program plus $5 billion.
The HTF would be eliminated in favor of a new Transportation Trust Fund, which would assume the same taxes currently dedicated to the HTF plus general fund transfers equaling the receipts for ten years of corporate tax reform. These transfers would be for TTF obligations through 2020. A Highway Account would be established as part of the TTF that would continue to receive the same fuel and non-fuel related taxes currently dedicated to highway funding as well as a portion of general fund transfers to the TTF. In addition, a Transit Account, Rail Account, and Multimodal Account would be created under the TTF.
This month, lawmakers in both chambers of Congress continued their push to reauthorize surface transportation spending as new data released by the Department of Transportation revealed the Highway Trust Fund is closer to insolvency than previously thought. During the week of March 10, both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees held hearings to dissect the President’s FY 2015 budget proposal and hear testimony from Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx on the administration’s plan for surface transportation spending that would provide $150 billion for infrastructure over the next four years by using funding generated through corporate tax reform. Similarly, in February, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) released an outline for corporate tax reform that would provide $126.5 billion for infrastructure spending over the next ten years.
According to figures released by the Department of Transportation, the HTF will reach insolvency as early as July 2014. In a hearing examining state and local perspectives on transportation funding on March 27, director of the department of transportation for the state of Rhode Island, Michael Lewis, claimed his state could “lose an entire construction season” because of the pending HTF bankruptcy. While these estimates change regularly, at this time the Senate Committee for Environment and Public Works indicated they would like to introduce a surface transportation proposal by the end of April and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is currently indicated they would like to do the same by the end of June.
The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 is moving through the House of Representatives, having been reported by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on February 11. Introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Chairman of the subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, the bill makes appropriations to the Federal Maritime Commission through FY 2016 at a level of $24,700,000, which represents a $300 million cut to the commission. The legislation makes structural reforms to the FMC, prohibiting a commissioner from serving more than one year after their five-year term expires and imposes a limit of two terms.
The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act also requires the Secretary of Transportation to submit a National Maritime Strategy to Congress no later than 60 days after the bill enactment date. The strategy will include recommendations to increase the use and competitiveness of U.S.-flag vessels by reducing regulatory burden and increasing the use of short sea transportation routes to enhance intermodal freight movements. The bill has two cosponsors, the Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Ranking Member Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV).
At a February 12 Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on surface transportation reauthorization, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said she hoped a five year transportation funding bill would begin to move through committee by spring of this year. Testifying at the hearing were representatives from labor, commerce, transportation and manufacturing. According to witness testimony, Congress should pass a multi-year, preferably 5 or 6 years, bill that would increase funding while addressing the impending shortage of Highway Trust Fund dollars. Any solution that increases funding the HTF will have to originate from the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over issues relating to the federal gas tax and any potential user fee.
On February 25, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) unveiled his plan to reform the nation’s tax code by lowering the corporate tax code from 35 percent to 25 percent. This plan includes $120 billion for the HTF, which would keep the fund solvent through 2022.
The President traveled to Minnesota on February 26 to unveil his plan for infrastructure investment, calling for a four year reauthorization of transportation programs at $302 billion. According to Politico, the White House says half of the proposed funds would come from tax reform, with $63 billion going towards supporting HTF baselines and the remaining $87 billion being dedicated for spending above baseline numbers. The President’s proposal will also include a dedicated $10 billion multimodal freight grant and $5 billion the Transportation Investment Generating Recovery program over four years. The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program would also continue to be funded at $1 billion over the next four years.
Speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s second annual Transportation Infrastructure Summit on February 20, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said there was “a better way” than increasing the federal fuel tax to raise the money needed to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure. The Secretary’s statement comes after the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) voiced his support for a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax, which would tax drivers per miles driven. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation to double the federal fuel tax over three years, as well as a bill to establish a VMT pilot program, in December of 2013.
On December 3, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Update, Promote, and Develop America’s Transportation Essentials (UPDATE) Act of 2013 to the House of Representatives, where it was referred to the Committee on Ways and Means. The bill seeks to nearly double the federal motor fuel and diesel taxes in order to maintain the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund, the mechanism for surface transportation funding in the United States. The bill would raise federal fuel taxes 15 cents per gallon over the next three years to 33.4 cents per gallon of gasoline, or 39.4 cents per gallon of diesel. After the tax increase is fully implemented in 2016, the UPDATE Act would index the tax to inflation. According to figures from Rep. Blumenauer’s office, the bill would raise almost $170 billion over the next ten years, at which point it would eliminate the tax increase and revert to current numbers. The bill also contains a “Sense of Congress” that in 10 years a more long term funding solution should be implemented.
The UPDATE Act represents the first attempt to raise the federal fuel tax since it was increased to its current levels in 1992. Rep. Blumenauer is the sole sponsor of the bill, which is not likely to move through Congress, though organizations such as the American Trucking Associations, UPS, and the Chamber of Commerce have previously expressed their support for raising the fuel tax.
Also on December 3, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Road Usage Fee Pilot Program Act to the House of Representatives, where it was referred to the Committees on Ways and Means, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Energy and Commerce. The bill seeks to find an alternative source of surface transportation revenue through the establishment of a competitive grant program to fund Vehicle Miles Traveled pilot projects nationwide. These VMT programs would tax users based on their distance traveled as opposed to the per gallon federal fuel tax. The bill sets aside $30 million in initial funding for the grant program and would prioritize projects that involve multiple states while setting aside 10 percent of the proposed funding for regional-scale projects.
Oregon is currently the only state in the union running a VMT pilot program, but it does not involve truck participation. Rep. Blumenauer’s bill does not specify provisions for trucks or freight movement, so truck participation in these pilot programs would be up to the discretion of individual states. The sole sponsor of this legislation, Rep. Blumenauer introduced a similar bill in 2012 that did not leave committee.
Just before the first session of the 113th Congress ended, the Senate passed a bipartisan budget agreement to fund the government through 2015. The bill, called the Bipartisan Budget Act, was agreed to in the House on December 12 and raises the statutory spending caps outlined in 2011’s Budget Control Act. This increase will provide an additional $63 billion over the next two years for discretionary spending, blunting the cuts from sequestration by half in FY2014 and one quarter in FY2015. As part of October negotiations between the House and Senate to pass a clean Continuing Resolution and end the government shutdown, Democrats agreed to appoint conferees to reconcile the House and Senate budget proposals prepared in early 2013 and billions of dollars apart.
The Bipartisan Budget Act requires any transfers from the General Fund to other accounts, such as the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the same fiscal year’s budget. Some outlets have speculated this may be troublesome for the HTF, which is due to become insolvent in 2014. Estimates say the HTF will require an infusion of about $12 billion to remain solvent, and appropriators would be obligated to immediately find $12 billion in necessary cuts in order to fund the HTF.
On November 14, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and a bipartisan group of eight Senators introduced the Building and Renewing Infrastructure for Development and Growth in Employment Act in the Senate, where it was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Senator Warner’s legislation would create an independent infrastructure financing authority for the purpose of selecting projects that meet specific criteria for federal funding. The bill would receive an initial $10 billion in federal funds, which would come through the sale of unused government buildings, to capitalize the authority and would complement existing infrastructure funding through loans and loan guarantees. Projects that would be eligible for funding from the IFA would have to show a “clear public benefit” and be of national or regional significance. Projects would also have to cost at least $50 million, though rural projects would only need to reach the $10 million threshold.
Despite being a government run entity, the IFA would operate outside of any federal agency and would be led by a chief executive officer and seven member board, with one member of the board being chosen as chairperson. Both the CEO and board would be designated by the President and would be subject to confirmation by the Senate. Board members would have final approval on projects and no more than four members of the board could belong to the same political party. Candidates for the IFA board would be recommended by the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House as well as Majority and Minority leaders in the Senate. The bill has been endorsed by the American Trucking Associations, the American Association of Port Authorities, and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
On October 30, Congressman Rick Crawford (R-AR) introduced “The True Understanding of the Economy and Safety Act” in the House, where it was referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Co-Sponsored by Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) and Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC), the bill would restore the hours-of-service regulations that were in place prior to the implementation of new HOS rules on July 1, 2013 and delay the current rules until the Government Accountability Office conducts an independent assessment of the methodology that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration used to create the 34-hour restart provision in the new regulations. Reimplementation of the restart rule would be prohibited until six months after Congress receives the GAO report.
On October 29, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation released their report on the state of the nation’s freight transportation system and issued recommendations for making needed improvements to the freight network. Chaired by Congressman John J. Duncan and Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler, the panel’s report studied freight’s movement by various modes, including truck, rail, ship, barge, and airplane, to determine the state of the country’s freight mobility network and what can be done to improve it.
The report opened with six primary recommendations, all related to the system as whole, and advised increased investment, planning, and the development of future funding options. The report provided support for the Projects of National and Regional Significance, advising that USDOT should develop criteria that advantages freight. The Panel advocated tasking USDOT with developing a list of freight revenue sources, to be reviewed by Congress.
Within the trucking-specific recommendations, the Panel advised Congress to encourage USDOT’s completion of the Truck Size & Weight Study in accordance with MAP-21’s requirement. It also calls for Congress to encourage states, localities, and the private sector to designate resources for commercial driver training to be made available to all organizations that provide such training.
The panel’s recommendations on freight rail include directing USDOT to improve the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program, known as the RRIF loan program’s approval process and increase awareness on the program’s benefits. The report also calls for various rail stakeholders to form consensus on the proper Positive Train Control implementation deadline.
Recommendations on shipping and ports include a call to appropriate funds in an equal amount to what is collected by the HMTF annually as well as a decree to spend down the account’s $7 billion balance and expand eligible uses to include other in-water projects adjacent to navigation channels. There is also a call for the USDOT and the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study on the degree of cargo diversion to Canada and Mexico in an effort to avoid paying the HMT.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Actwas passed by the House on October 23 by an impressive margin of 417-3. The legislation will now move to a conference with the Senate’s Water Resources Development Act that was approved by the Senate on May 15. There are several key differences that will need to be negotiated before final legislation can be approved and signed into law, but should conferees agree to a bill, it would be the first water development act to be signed into law since 2007.
WRRDA authorizes 23 projects totaling nearly $10 billion while deauthorizing and defunding $12 billion from 15 projects that will be eliminated. Both the House and Senate water development bills would ramp up spending from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund on port maintenance and improvements, but the percentage of the trust fund to be allocated differs as well as the year over year increases. Starting in 2015, the Senate WRDA bill would increase funding $100 million annually from the FY 2014 level of $1 billion until 2020, when the full amount of taxes collected by the HMTF would be utilized for intended purposes. The House’s version of the bill would never authorize a full spend down of the HMTF, instead beginning with the authorization of 65 percent of the HMTF in 2014 and ramping up to no less than 80 percent by 2020.
The Senate and House bills also differ in the methods for project authorization. While the House bill allows for Congress to have final authorizing authority over any projects with completed Chief’s Reports, submitted by the Army Corp. of Engineers, the Senate bill simply authorizes any project with a completed Chief’s Report prior to the bill’s final passage. The cost of the legislation also differs in the House and Senate, with WRRDA costing approximately $3.5 billion between FY 2014-2018. During that same span, the Senate’s WRDA bill will cost about $5.7 billion. The Obama administration has expressed its support for water development legislation, but that support does come with some concern regarding environmental streamlining provisions in both bills.
On October 1, the Federal Government closed its doors after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on a continuing resolution to authorize appropriations for government operations. The shutdown resulted in the closing of numerous federal agencies and furloughs of an estimated 800,000 federal employees according to the Washington Post. It marked the first time since the mid-1990’s (from December 15, 1995 through January 6, 1996) the government was forced to shut its doors due to a lapse in appropriations.
Due to the firewalled Highway Trust Fund and the essential services provided by the Federal Aviation Administration, many agencies within the Department of Transportation were exempt from furlough. Of the roughly 55,500 USDOT employees, about 18,500 were furloughed. Agencies drawing money from the HTF, such as the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, were exempt from furlough because the account is not subject to annual appropriations. Due to staff shortages at the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture, and Food and Drug Administration, many shipments that require paperwork approval from these agencies were delayed.
Just after midnight on October 17, the President signed the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014 (H.R. 2775), ending the shutdown after sixteen days. The Continuing Appropriations Act authorizes funding for government appropriations through January 15, 2014, which coincides with the start of the second round of cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The continuing resolution also raises the debt ceiling until February 7, 2014 and initiates a conference between the House and Senate for negotiations on a 2014 budget.
There was some confusion as to the fate of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Program in the CR. Some news outlets reported that because the infrastructure grant program had been zeroed out in the House appropriations bill for Departments of Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, the program would be defunded as part of the continuing appropriations in order to comply with the Anti-Deficiency Act. According to a USDOT statement provided to Politico, “the TIGER program has not been zeroed out… The full THUD bill is part of ongoing full year funding negotiations.” So for now, as in recent years, the possibility of another round of TIGER grants will become clear closer to the fiscal year’s end.
On September 17, Senator Patty Murray introduced a bill proposing a comprehensive overhaul of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Titled “The Maritime Goods Act” and cosponsored by Washington’s junior Senator, Maria Cantwell, the legislation would replace the Harbor Maintenance Tax with a user fee to be applied to all waterborne U.S. bound cargo entering the United States. The fee, called the Maritime Goods Movement Fee, is charged at the same rate as the Harbor Maintenance Fee, which is 0.125 percent of the value of commercial cargo, and would apply to all U.S.-bound waterborne cargo that entered Canada or Mexico prior to arriving in the United States. In addition to fulfilling needs previously met by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, the Maritime Goods User Fee would also create a competitive grant program for landside infrastructure that benefits the flow of goods into and out of ports and land border crossings.
The proposed competitive grant program would provide financial assistance to no fewer than six grantees annually, including a minimum of three local or state governments and port authorities, and at least three super donor ports. A super donor port is defined by the bill as one that has received less than ten percent of the fees collected at the port for a period of five consecutive years. Super donor ports would be eligible for the special grantee status beginning in the sixth year of the program. In addition to landside improvements, it could also pay for expenses related to channel widening and deepening.
On September 19, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure voted to unanimously approve the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, sending the legislation to the full House of Representatives for consideration. Sponsored by committee chairman, Rep. Bill Shuster, the legislation authorizes 23 projects totaling nearly $10 billion. The bill also defunds $12 billion from 15 inactive projects, fully offsetting new authorizations with deauthorizations.
WRRDA proposes to increase expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for port maintenance and improvements. In years past, only about half of the funds from the HMTF have been used for their intended purposes, according to the House T&I Committee. The bill would ensure that by 2020, no less than 80 percent of the funds collected by the Harbor Maintenance Tax would be used for operations and maintenance activities. In order to reach that level, the percentage of spending would increase annually from the date of enactment until 2020. WRRDA would also allocate 10 percent of the HMTF every year to smaller ports that handle less than one million tons of cargo on a yearly basis. The bill also authorizes the creation of a pilot program that would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to identify 15 water development projects eligible to be financed through public-private partnerships.
WRRDA is cosponsored by T&I Ranking Member, Rep. Nick Rahall; Rep. Bob Gibbs, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment; and Rep. Tim Bishop, the Ranking Member on Water Resources and the Environment. Traditionally passed biannually, no water resources bill has been signed into law since 2007. The Senate passed its own water resources development legislation in May.
On August 15, Washington Democratic Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray announced in a press conference in Seattle, WA they will introduce the Maritime Goods Movement Act when the Senate reconvenes in September. According to a press release, the legislation would significantly strengthen American ports by making necessary investments in infrastructure and fostering job creation in the ports.
The Maritime Goods Movement Act would repeal the Harbor Maintenance Tax and replace it with a port user fee, called the Maritime Goods Movement User Fee. The fee would be applied to all cargo entering the United States from the Pacific market, including cargo that has first stopped in Canada and Mexico. Both Senators claim the bill would create an equal playing field for America’s ports by ensuring shippers could not avoid the new user fee by diverting their shipments to either Mexico or Canada.
Unlike the current Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, the new user fee would be spent in full on its intended purposes, according to the bill’s sponsors. The money collected by the fees would fund a competitive grant program to improve the intermodal transportation system; unconfirmed reports indicate this program will total roughly $31 million per year. The bill would also set aside some of the funds from the user fee to aid low use and remote harbors that have difficulty competing for federal funding. Sen. Cantwell’s and Sen. Murray’s legislation would also close tax loopholes for oil and gas companies in order to fund expanded infrastructure investments, although details on this item remain unclear.
The Clean Ports Act of 2013 is currently being considered by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation as well as the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The companion bills, introduced on August 2, would give ports the resources to improve air quality and lower emissions from motor carriers, and are sponsored by Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, both of whom represent New York. Congressman Nadler introduced the bill in 2012, but the 112 Congress did not act on it.
The Federal Aviation Administration Act, which states that local political authorities are prohibited from regulating truck price, routes, or service, would be amended to allow ports to regulate trucking activity, providing the legal basis Clean Truck Programs. The FAAA Act was cited by the American Trucking Associations in its case against the Port of Los Angeles’ Clean Truck Program. The Supreme Court ruled in June that the Port of LA had violated the FAAA Act and struck down the port’s Clean Truck Program.
According to reports from Politico, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has completed drafting its Water Resources and Development bill. The Committee has yet to release the draft legislation or any particulars of what the bill might include. Politico has reported that the Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), is choosing not to release the bill unless he receives assurances that WRDA will receive floor time, which is unlikely to happen in the early fall given a host of competing, more pressing legislative items. According to third party reports, the bill will preserve Congress’ ability to authorize Army Corps of Engineers project without the use of earmarks.
The Senate passed their own Water Resources and Development bill on May 15. The Senate bill would fund water projects at $12 billion and includes measures to increase Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund spending.
Legislation funding the Department of Energy, water development projects, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies made progress in both chambers of Congress during the month of July. The House Energy and Water bill, sponsored by Republican New Jersey Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on July 2 and passed the full House of Representatives on July 10. The bill would authorize spending at $30.4 billion dollars for FY 2014, almost $3 billion below 2013 funding levels. The House bill would fund the Army Corps of Engineers at more than $4.8 billion and authorize spending of $1 billion for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. This represents a cut of more than $150 million to the Army Corps budget from last year.
The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act for FY 2014 was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 27 and placed on the legislative calendar. The bill would authorize funding levels at $34.77 billion, which is almost $2 billion less than FY 2013. The Energy and Water bill provides $5.3 billion for the Corps of Engineers and keeps the commitment made in the Senate’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to increase funding for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. This commitment would increase funding devoted to harbor projects by $100 million per year for six years, starting at $1 billion for FY 2014. The bill is sponsored by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA).
After months of negotiating fiscal year 2014 appropriations for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, the House of Representatives removed their bill from the House floor where it was being considered for final amendments. There is wide speculation the bill was removed because it lacked the necessary votes for passage. Splitting the Republican majority, Members of the party were unable to support it citing the dollar amount was insufficient, while staunch deficit hawks felt the bill spent too much. Congressman Hal Rogers (R-KY), the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, released a statement saying “The prospects for passing this bill in September are bleak at best, given the vote count on passage that was apparent this afternoon…Thus, I believe that the House has made its choice: sequestration — and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts — must be brought to an end.”
Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY) proposed an amendment to the House THUD bill that would have prohibited funding to be used by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to enforce new regulations regarding Hours-of-Service that went into effect on July 1. Under Rep. Hanna’s amendment, the funding freeze would expire in September 2014, at which point FMCSA could resume enforcement of the new rules.
On Thursday, August 1 the Senate failed to reach the 60 vote threshold to resume consideration of its version of THUD appropriations. The vote, which was 54-43 in favor of invoking cloture, failed after six Republicans who had originally supported the bill in committee reconsidered their positions and voted no following Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s floor statement calling the bill fiscally irresponsible.
Senator Ed Markey was sworn in on July 16 as Massachusetts’ junior Senator after being elected in June to finish Secretary of State John Kerry’s term. Shortly after formally joining the Senate, Senator Markey was named to serve on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Senator Markey left behind his seat in the House of Representatives, and Ranking Member position on the House Natural Resources Committee.
On July 18, Congressman Peter DeFazio was named his replacement as Ranking Member on the House Natural Resources Committee, forcing Rep. DeFazio to step down as the Ranking Member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Highways and Transit Subcommittee, per Democratic Caucus rules. Taking the helm as Ranking Member of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee is Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton who has relinquished her role as Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management.
The June 3 death of Senator Frank Lautenberg produced a domino effect of changing faces on the Senate’s transportation committees. The absence of Senator Lautenberg’s voice in the Senate will change the dynamic of Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation where Senator Lautenberg served as a vocal Chairman of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security. On June 10, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) was named as Senator Lautenberg’s replacement as Chairman of the Subcommittee, and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) will assume Senator Lautenberg’s seat on the full committee.
Senator Heinrich’s fellow New Mexican, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), will shift Appropriations subcommittee assignments to fill the seat left vacant by Senator Lautenberg on the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) was selected on June 20 to fill Senator Lautenberg’s now-vacant seat on the full Senate Appropriations committee.
On June 27, Hawaiian Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) was selected to fill his seat on the Committee on Environment and Public Works until an October 16 special election is held to determine Senator Lautenberg’s successor. New Jersey&rquo;s Governor, Chris Christie, appointed Jeffrey Chiesa, the state’s Attorney General, to fill Senator Lautenberg’s seat on June 6. Senator Chiesa (R-NJ) will serve until a special election is held on October 16. Candidates in the special election include Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and Steve Lonegan, a former Mayor of Bogota, N.J.
The Senate was not the only legislative body to see a shakeup in transportation, as the House’s committee Transportation and Infrastructure saw fundamental changes thanks to special elections in S.C. and Mass.
On June 13, Congressman Mark Sanford was named to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee after winning a May special election in S.C.’s first district. Congressman Sanford was Governor of S.C. for two terms and served four terms in the House of Representatives prior to being elected governor. Opponents of Rep. Sanford have been quick to remind the transportation community that during his first period in Congress in the 1990’s, Rep. Sanford voted against a measure that would have provided funding to dredge the Port of Charleston to accommodate larger container ships. Rep. Sanford’s team has gone on record saying he opposed a slate of earmark projects, not the notion of dredging the Port of Charleston. Since being reelected in May, Rep. Sanford has voiced his support for a plan to dredge the Port.
Another special election, this time in Mass., stands to impact leadership on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. On June 25, then-Congressman Ed Markey defeated Gabriel Gomez in a special election to determine who will finish the Senate term of now-Secretary of State John Kerry. Senator Markey’s victory could signal Congressman Peter DeFazio’s departure from the Ranking Member post on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, as he is reportedly aiming to take Markey’s spot as Ranking Member of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Rep. DeFazio would have to step down as Ranking Member on the Transportation & Infrastructure subcommittee due to Democratic caucus rules that prohibit members from holding leadership positions on multiple committees. Should he choose to take the leadership position for the Committee on Natural Resources, those in line to become Ranking Member on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee include (in order of seniority): Reps. Eleanor Holmes-Norton, Jarrod Nadler, and Corrine Brown. However, third party reports suggest that Reps. Holmes-Norton, Nadler, and Brown would opt not to pursue the opening and remain Ranking Members on other subcommittees. Politico has reported that the post could fall to Congressman Mike Capuano (D-MA), while Transportation Issues Daily has suggested that Congressman Rick Larsen (D-WA) could take the spot.
Legislation authorizing funding for the Department of Transportation is moving through both the House and Senate committees on Appropriations. The House appropriations bill, which provides funding for the FY 2014, was passed by the full Committee on Appropriations on Thursday, June 27 by a margin of 28-20. The bill would set funding levels for the Department of Transportation at just over $44 billion, $7.7 billion below FY 2013 levels, and include almost $41 billion for the Highway Trust Fund as outlined by MAP-21. The budget for the Federal Railroad Administration was cut from FY 2013 by $468 million to a proposed level of $1.16 billion. The legislation also budgets $326 million for the Maritime Administration, which cuts $25 million from last year’s authorization. The House THUD bill also removes all funding from the TIGER program and rescinds $237 million of unobligated FY 2013 TIGER funds.
The Senate THUD bill authorizes spending at $54 billion, which is roughly a $2 billion increase over FY 2013. The bill also includes $550 million for the TIGER program and $40.3 billion for the Highway Trust Fund, which is roughly $600 million more than FY 2013 levels. Rail funding is set at $1.75 billion and, likely a nod to Senate Appropriator Patty Murray (D-WA) in light of her state’s recent bridge collapse, the bill includes an additional $500 million for investments in bridges.
On June 27, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx was confirmed by the Senate to be the Secretary of Transportation by a unanimous vote. Secretary Foxx will replace Secretary Ray LaHood, who has served in President Obama’s cabinet since 2009. Secretary Foxx faced little opposition during his confirmation process and has drawn praise from Senators on both sides of the aisle as well as leaders in the transportation industry. Secretary Foxx’s transportation achievements during his time as mayor include breaking ground on the Charlotte Streetcar Project, opening a third runway at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, and extending the LYNX light-rail system to the University of North Carolina in Charlotte.
On December 16, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a long-awaited final rule governing the use of electronic logging devices. The regulation requires all commercial truck drivers to adopt ELDs by December 18, 2017, and prohibits harassment of drivers that could result from information generated by these devices. The final rule also details new hours-of-service supporting document requirements intended to reduce paperwork needs. While ELDs are effective at monitoring driving period hours-of-service compliance, supporting documents are still needed to verify on-duty not driving time, according to FMCSA. These ODND supporting documents include bills of landing and dispatch and payroll records. However, motor carriers using ELDs are no longer required to retain supporting documents verifying on-duty driving time.
In response to the ELD mandate, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association announced it will sue FMCSA over what they’re calling an intrusion on the rights of the drivers. American Trucking Associations, meanwhile, says it intends to file a court brief in support of ELDs.
To comply with the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration removed Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories scores from public view on December 4, 2015, the same day the bill was signed into law. The removal of BASIC scores from the public webpage was mandated by the FAST Act. The law further stipulates a National Academies study of the agency’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program, which includes BASIC scores and BASIC score calculations.
The National Academies CSA study will examine the methodology used to calculate BASIC percentiles, as well as analyze their accuracy in identifying high risk carriers and predicting future crash risk. Following the study, the FMCSA Administrator must issue a corrective action plan, which will be reviewed by the Inspector General. The IG will analyze the extent to which the plan adequately addresses the recommendations from the National Academies report, as well as a 2014 GAO report, which was critical of the program. In the meantime, BASIC scores remain accessible to law enforcement.
In a study published this month, The American Transportation Research Institute finds that removing non-preventable crash data significantly improves a carrier’s Crash Indicator Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category measure. BASIC scores measure a driver’s history or pattern of high crash involvement but they do not factor in crash accountability. According to ATRI, this causes a misleading score for carriers, one that does not adequately reflect their safety performance.
The study, titled “Assessing the Impact of Non-Preventable Crashes on CSA Scores,” pulls data from the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System database and removes “a small and non-controversial subset of non-preventable crashes:” 1) animal collision; 2) other vehicle hits legally parked truck; 3) other vehicle runs stop light; 4) driver of other vehicle driving under the influence; and 5) truck-assisted suicide. The report then re-calculates the crash indicator BASIC resulting in an average 15 percent improvement.
This study reflects industry and governmental concerns that the BASIC scores are not completely representative of carrier performance. Along these lines, both the House and the Senate long-term transportation bills propose hiding BASIC scores from public view until FMCSA retools the score calculation.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a final Driver Coercion rule on November 30, prohibiting motor carriers, shippers, receivers, and transportation intermediaries, as well as anyone who operates a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce, from coercing drivers to violate Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Specifically, the rule sets penalties for entities that attempt to coerce drivers into violating hours-of-service limits, commercial driver’s license regulations, drug and alcohol testing rules, and the Hazardous Materials Regulations.
The rule, which will go into effect on January 29, 2016, provides drivers with procedures to report coercion incidents to the FMCSA and establishes response measures the Agency can take as well as the potential penalties for coercion. Accused entities have the opportunity for a hearing with the FMCSA to defend themselves, during which evidence submitted by the trucker is taken into account and the burden of proof resides with the FMCSA. If it is found that the entity attempted to force drivers to operate outside of federal regulations, the rule allows for fines of up to $10,000, or a maximum inflation-adjusted fine of $16,000, per offense. FMCSA may also take away operating licenses and authority from offenders.
The Federal Maritime Commission issued a final rule this month, which requires Ocean Transportation Intermediaries to renew licenses every three years and provides them with an online renewal process to do so. The final rule also clarifies the violations the Commission may clearly consider when issuing an OTI, such as operating as an OTI without a license or registration, negative Transportation Worker ID Card history, and negative customs broker’s license history. These later changes are effective on December 9, 2015.
By definition, OTIs are ocean freight forwarders, non-vessel-operating common carriers, or a combination of the two. They require licenses when they are “resident in or incorporated in the United State and perform…services in the foreign commerce of the United States.” Prior to this rule, licenses were permanent and an OTI only needed to reapply if a license was surrendered or revoked. The new renewal requirements go in to effect on December 9, 2016, one year after the rule goes into effect.
Between November 16 and December 7, the Surface Transportation Board will waive its general prohibition on private communications with stakeholders to hold meetings to discuss proposed rules on railroad performance data reporting. The meetings will allow interested parties and STB staff to address and discuss what types of data will be most useful to the public and will give STB an idea of how individual railroads monitor performance.
On October 21, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration delayed the effective and compliance dates for the Unified Registration System, citing technical delays in system implementation as the reason for the extension. New entrant carriers must comply by December 12, 2015; carriers who already have a U.S. Department of Transportation number must comply by September 30, 2016.
The Unified Registration System is an electronic online registration system meant to streamline the FMCSA’s registration process for all carriers by combining what used to be multiple forms in to a single, online system. The streamlining effort is designed to save time and money for the carriers and for the FMCSA.
On October 23, the Federal Highway Administration published a final designation of the Primary Freight Network. The map contained no route modifications from the draft PFN, published on November 19, 2013. In their announcement of the final designation, FHWA acknowledged the PFN does not represent the multimodal system through which freight moves, and is severely limited by its 27,000-mile cap, yielding an unrepresentative picture of the freight system. Both the House and Senate long-term surface transportation proposals introduced this Congress require DOT to designate a multimodal freight network. The Senate bill requires all intermodal connectors are added to the “Primary Highway Freight Network” — a revised version of the Primary Freight Network.
On October 18, Anthony Foxx, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, released the department ’s draft National Freight Strategic Plan. The NFSP examines the current state of our freight transportation system, considers future demands on the freight network, identifies major corridors and gateways, and specifies best practices for enhancing the system. The document emphasizes freight in the United States often travels over multiple modes in the journey from origin to destination. In order to strategically accommodate end-to-end supply chains, and plan for anticipated increases in freight volumes, the draft NFSP maps a Multimodal Freight Network inclusive of highways, railways, waterways, pipelines, airports and intermodal facilities. The document also recommends strategic investment in freight infrastructure. The draft National Freight Strategic Plan is open for comment and USDOT is actively soliciting feedback on the document from the public.
In August, the Port of Oakland submitted a proposed amendment to its Marine Terminal Operator Agreement to create Oakpass, a new program that would allow terminals to operate on Saturdays. These off-peak hours would be paid for by a fee levied on loaded containers exiting or entering terminals during peak hours.
On September 2, the Federal Maritime Commission requested additional information on the proposed amendment, delaying implementation of the fees which were originally set to begin on September 7.
The request came after stakeholders impacted by the potential Agreement expressed concern over what they saw as a lack of transparency in the proposed program. The Notice included a 15 day comment period, which closed on September 26.
MAP-21 required that the US Department of Transportation complete a Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Limits Study. In June, the Federal Highway Administration released five Technical Reports as part of this study, designed to compare the effects of trucks operating above federal truck size and weight limits to those of trucks operating at or below the federal limits in the areas of Bridge, Compliance, Modal Shift, Pavement, and Safety. The studies also evaluated alternative truck size and weight configurations and their impacts in the same areas.
FHWA is now in the process of writing a Report to Congress and announced this month that it will be accepting public comments on the technical results. For the comments to be included in the formal Report to Congress, they must be submitted to the FHWA by October 13, 2015. However, the docket will remain open for a period of time after that date.
On August 7, the Federal Railroad Administration released a detailed status report on the Positive Train Control implementation deadline. The report was mandated by the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, more commonly known as the Omnibus appropriations bill, and finds a majority of railroads will miss the December 31, 2015 PTC implementation deadline established by Congress in 2008. Stakeholders and lawmakers alike have been aware for some time that most railroads would fail to meet the deadline for a host of reasons, and Congressional response has been varied. Last month, the Senate passed the DRIVE Act, a six-year reauthorization bill, with language extending the PTC implementation deadline until December 31, 2018, on a case-by-case basis. The House has yet to indicate whether they ’ll also be supportive of a PTC deadline extension.
The Federal Highway Administration announced the results of a MAP-21 mandated “Jason ’s Law” truck parking survey on August 21. The survey, the goal of which was to find key truck parking areas in need of improvement, found that most states reported parking shortages. With the exception of those operating in a few rural states, finding available and safe parking is a significant challenge for truck drivers, particularly at night. The survey also reported fewer spaces were found in major metro areas and states lack the resources to fund parking projects and enforcement. The Jason ’s Law truck parking survey reveals states have difficulty understanding when and where parking is most needed, and finding residential areas that are willing to accept the installation of a truck stop.
The report lays out a three-tier system that agencies at all levels can use to assess, measure, and better understand parking needs. Beyond that, the report calls for a champion for truck parking needs. This call has prompted the creation of a coalition consisting of national and regional stakeholders in the trucking industry, the National Coalition on Truck Parking, which will hold its first meeting within the next few months and will work toward developing recommendations to improve truck parking availability across the nation. For more information, click here
Finding a growing need to ease congestion during peak times, Port of Oakland terminal operators submitted to the Federal Maritime Commission a proposed amendment to the Oakland Marine Terminal Operator Agreement. The amendment proposes operating terminal gates on Saturdays and levying a fee on loaded containers exiting or entering terminals during peak hours. The program would be referred to as “OakPass,” similar in concept to the San Pedro Bay ports ’ PierPass program.
The proposed amendment is subject to a 45-day FMC review period. Fees will begin September 7 unless the FMC requests more information.
On July 14, the Federal Maritime Commission released a report on U.S. port congestion. The report, titled “U.S. Container Port Congestion & Related International Supply Chain Issues: Cause, Consequences & Challenges,” contains findings from four regional forums the commission held at U.S. ports last fall. The report is organized into six sections, to reflect what the FMC characterized as the six most prevalent discussion areas at the forums. These sections address capital investment in ports, chassis availability, vessel and terminal operations, drayage, extended port hours and congestion pricing, and collaboration.
The report also examines the subsequent impacts of these problems and potential solutions. This is the second of three port congestion reports the FMC plans to release this year. The agency issued the first on detention and demurrage in April and expects to release the final report this fall.
The Federal Maritime Commission issued an order directing 19 ocean carriers to provide data relevant to the agency’s monitoring of the Pacific Port Operational Improvement Agreement. In mid-April, the FMC unanimously approved PPOIA, seeing it as a mechanism to alleviate West Coast port congestion. The subsequent order “stops the clock” on any attempt to expand PPOIA and gives FMC the authority to void the agreement if the carries do not provide the requested data.
The FMC order comes in response to claims from motor carriers and other stakeholders that PPOIA members have violated the federal Shipping Act. Specifically, trucking groups argue that chassis inspections conducted by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union “unfairly burden intermodal motor carriers and chassis-leasing companies” and “are having a negative impact on the motor carriers’ ability to efficiently transport and deliver freight in a timely manner.”
On July 29, GAO released a report, titled “Additional Research Standards and Truck Drivers’ Schedule Data Could Allow More Accurate Assessments of the Hours of Service Rule.” The report contends the January 2014 MAP-21-mandated 34-hour restart field study did not meet certain research standards, such as reporting limitations and linking conclusions to the results. The January 2014 study supported the safety merits of the 34-hour restart rule.
The GAO report is a result of a request from House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-WI), who asked the GAO to look into FMCSA’s methodology. FMCSA issued an initial response to GAO’s findings, stating that the overall report supported the positive safety impact of the hours-of-service rule.
In a letter to the Federal Maritime Commission, the Institute of International Container Lessors is claiming the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is illegally inspecting chassis as they leave maritime terminals. Under current agreement, members of the ILWU perform mandatory roadability inspections on all chassis, with the exception of chassis owned by motor carriers. The IICL letter states that ILWU is illegally requiring definitive proof of motor carrier ownership, proof that is not required by law and presents a significant burden on motor carriers. Accordingly, when a chassis is unable to provide proof of motor carrier ownership, the ILWU inspects the equipment. Any chassis that does not pass inspection must be repaired at the marine terminal before it can leave the premises with a container. This is causing delays for major lessors of chassis. The ILWU has asked the FMC to look into these allegations to determine if overreach is taking place.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration made public an Independent Review Team report, conducted in 2014 at the request of the Secretary of Transportation. The report finds that the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program needs to be improved in order to better align with the safety risks that cause crashes. The report recommends approaches that can increase the effective participation of stakeholders in helping to resolve the problems associated with the program. The IRT also found that the safety measurement system resource prioritization lacks a process to actively manage risk concentrations once they are identified. The report recommends incremental improvements to the SMS in order to find common ground between FMCSA and industry stakeholders.
Possibly in response to the public release of the report, FCMSA issued a June 29 federal register notice announcing enhancements to the SMS methodology, including changing some of the SMS Intervention Thresholds to better reflect BASICs correlation to crash risk, reclassifying violations for operating while out-of-service to the Unsafe Driving BASIC, and adjustments to the Utilization Factor. Comments related to the proposed changes are due July 29.
On May 19, the United States International Trade Commission announced its decision on the antidumping and countervailing investigation into Chinese-imported 53-foot dry containers. The agency found the import does not materially retard U.S. industry. USITC ’s decision closes the investigation brought on by Stoughton Trailers, a Wisconsin-based transportation equipment manufacturer, and the plaintiff in the case.
The Department of Commerce began collecting duties on the containers last fall in response to claims that Chinese imports were subsidized and sold in the United States at less than fair value. As a result of USITC ’s ruling, all revenue collected from the temporary tariff will be refunded and no further antidumping or countervailing duty orders will be issued. The USITC will release a public report on June 22, which contains the Commissioners ’ views and details on the investigation.
On May 1, the Department of Transportation announced the publication of a final, aimed at strengthening safe transportation of flammable liquids by rail. The final rule enhances tank car standards and operational controls for high-hazard flammable trains. A change that could impact all rail traffic, the final rule restricts HHTF speeds to 50 mph in all areas and further mandates that tank cars not meeting the enhanced standards travel at 40 mph in high-threat urban areas.
The Federal Maritime Commission released a report on April 13 assessing detention, demurrage, and free time, as part of a larger effort to examine the causes of port congestion. The report is a culmination of the four congestion forums held last year by each of the Commissioners at major gateway ports — New Orleans, Louisiana, Baltimore, Maryland, Charleston, South Carolina and Los Angeles, California. The report is also a reaction to the uptick of complaints by shippers and truckers, who say they were hit with unfair fees as a result of port congestion.
“Report: Rules, Rates, and Practices Relating to Detention, Demurrage, and Free Time for Containerized Imports and Exports Moving Through Selected Untied States Ports,” includes specific actions that parties affected by demurrage fees can take. The report also includes eight potential pathways forward the FMC could take, including asking for reports by vessel operators, creating an industry advisory committee, or proposing a rulemaking to address practices the Commission has determined violate the Shipping Act. There is no timeline for these potential actions, and FMC Chairman Mario Cordero said he’d like to “take the temperature” on alleged unreasonable demurrage and detention fees before acting. Cordero also noted that the report will be the first in a series of planned commission reports on rules, rates, and practices relating to detention, demurrage, and free time for containerized imports and exports. Cordero noted earlier this year that port congestion will be the top issue for the agency in 2015.
On April 13, the Department of Commerce announced its affirmative final determination in the antidumping and countervailing duty investigations of 53-foot domestic dry containers from the People&squo;s Republic of China. In April of 2014, in response to a petition filed by Stoughton Trailers, LLC, DOC began preliminary phase antidumping and countervailing duty investigations. On September 23, 2014, the agency announced an affirmative preliminary determination of countervailable subsidization of the containers in question. Two months later DOC announced an affirmative preliminary determination of dumping of the 53-foot container imports from China.
With the April 13 affirmative final determination from DOC, the next step is for the International Trade Commission to make a final injury determination. That decision is expected on May 26, 2015. If the imports in question materially injure, threaten material injury, or materially retard the establishment of the industry, as determined by the ITC, Commerce will issue antidumping and countervailing duty orders. If the ITC makes a negative determination of injury, investigations will be terminated.
On April 15 the Federal Maritime Commission announced they’d unanimously approved the Pacific Ports Operational Improvements Agreement. Under the agreement, effective April 17, the Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association, members of the West Coast MTO Agreement, vessel-operating carriers and marine terminal operators serving the U.S. West Coast ports have the authority to exchange information and reach agreement on measures aimed at diminishing congestion.
This month, the American Transportation Research Institute released a study showing the number of truck-involved crashes, and subsequent injuries and tow-aways, increased during the year-and-a half that the 34-hour restart rule was in place.
The more restrictive hours-of-service rules, which were in effect from July 1, 2013 until December 16, 2014, required drivers taking a 34-hour weekly restart to include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and limited their use of the restart to once every week. ATRI’s report found that the restart rule accomplished FMCSA’s goal of shifting truck trips from nighttime to daytime driving. However, because truck operators were working more hours in traffic-heavy parts of the day, there was an uptick in crashes and injuries. It is worth noting that statistically significant increases in truck crashes were confined to injury and tow-away crashes, not fatality events.
To arrive at their conclusions, ATRI pulled data from truck GPS databases to identify changes in truck travel after the July 1, 2013 restart rule went into place. The organization also examined several years of pre-and post-July 1, 2013 federal truck crash data to quantify safety impacts. ATRI took into account the effect of a better economy contributing to more traffic by considering percentage change and tonnage growth percentage over the two year period.
The Consolidating and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, which funded the government through September 30, also contained a provision suspending the controversial 34-hour restart provision contained in the Hours of Service Rule. The suspension of went effect July 2014. The provision required any driver taking a 34-hour restart to take two periods off between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. The rule also limits the restart to once a week. In addition to temporarily suspending this mandate, Congress asked that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conduct a study on the effectiveness of the requirement.
On March 17, FMCSA released details on its methodology for the Congressionally-mandated study. The agency announced they will compare 5-month driver work schedules to assess fatigue and Safety Critical Events. SCEs could include crashes and near-crashes. The study sample will include long-haul, short-haul, and regional drivers from small, medium, and large fleets. Driver health outcomes will be evaluated using Electronic Logging Devices, onboard monitoring systems or cameras, and various programs measuring sleep and alertness levels. The study will include a final report subject to an independent peer review.
To the consternation some members of Congress, FMCSA announced that Virginia Tech Transportation Institute will be conducting the study. VTTI conducted a previous HOS study, panned by many in Congress as incomplete and containing an insufficient sample size.
On February 11, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx fielded three hours of questions from House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members during their hearing, titled “Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill: Laying the Foundation for U.S. Economic Growth and Job Creation Part I.” Several members of Congress questioned Secretary Foxx on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration crash-accountability study, released on Jan. 21, which determined that incorporating crash fault into the CSA program would not improve DOT’s ability to target at-risk carriers. Rep. Robert Gibbs – R-OH pressed the Secretary on the logic of the study’s conclusion, saying, “Clearly accidents sometimes are the other person’s fault.” Secretary Foxx responded that DOT and FMCSA are “taking a look at it.”
Rep. Barletta – R-PA brought up a GAO report that found the data the CSA program uses does not correlate with crashes. “If CSA is truly meant to address safety problems before crashes occur, shouldn’t scores be based upon violations of regulations that have a causal connection to crashes?” asked Barletta. Foxx refuted the findings of the report, saying FMCSA takes issue with the GAO&rquo;s proposal to wait until 20 violation observations occur. The Secretary also criticized the emphasis the GAO report places on incorporating data after a crash occurs, arguing that the point of CSA scores are to determine whether a driver is unsafe before a crash occurs.
Richard Hanna – R-NY questioned Foxx on FMCSA’s recent choice of Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to complete the 34-hour restart study mandated by the FY15 government funding bill — the omnibus. Rep. Hanna pointed out that Virginia Tech also conducted the previous study, which produced outcomes many took issue with. Additionally, Rep. Hanna argued the 200 driver sample size Virginia Tech plans to use is not big enough to draw conclusions. Secretary Foxx acknowledged Rep. Hanna’s concerns and said he’d respond in writing to the Congressman after he’d reviewed DOT’s decision. However, the Secretary defended the hours-of-service changes, saying trucking regulations should be in line with those imposed on airline pilots. “There is science about … how much tolerance an individual has to running counter to circadian rhythms,” the Secretary said. “We have used that science in aviation and just about every mode of transportation.”
The Surface Transportation Board, or STB, annually calculates changes in the rail industry’s productivity by comparing the average cost of producing a unit of railroad output on a year-to-year basis. On February 13, the STB voted in favor of adopting 1.007 —0.7 percent per year — as the measure of average change in railroad productivity for 2009-2013. This number represents a 0.3 percent decrease from the previous period, 2008-2012. The productivity adjustment became effective March 1.
On February 11, the Surface Transportation Board, or STB, initiated a proceeding to determine the railroad industry’s cost of capital for 2014, which is an estimate of the average rate of return needed to encourage investors to provide money to the freight rail industry. Per the STB, the largest railroads operating in the United States must provide information to assist STB in making the determination. Interested parties may submit comments as well. Notice on intent to participate is due March 30.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, is initiating a study to survey carriers on how they pay their drivers and how that compensation may impact driver safety. Commercial motor vehicle drivers are typically paid per mile or per load. FMCSA seeks to determine whether these methods impact safety. In background materials on the study, FMCSA explains that paying drivers per mile may reward speeding and driving excessive miles. In early February, the agency announced plans to submit an information collection request to the Office of Management and Budget; these requests are required for large-scale Federal agency outreach efforts. Non-passenger carrying motor carriers will be selected at random and asked to complete an online questionnaire. According to the information collection request, FMCSA will be reaching out to over 2,100 motor carriers to gather information. FMCSA anticipates concluding the study in September of 2015.
In January, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, published a study finding the difficulty and cost of including crash fault in the Compliance, Safety and Accountability safety enforcement system outweighs the benefits. The report stated data sourced from police accident reports do not necessarily provide enough information to determine fault, and that incorporating fault does not consistently improve CSA’s ability to predict crash risk. Furthermore, police accident reports that do not determine crash fault would need to go through a lengthy examination and appeals process, thus delaying the incorporation of the crash fault into a driver’s Safety Measurement System, or SMS, score. Because SMS rankings only use crash data from the preceding two-year period, such a delay could make crash-fault data incorporation a moot point, according to the report. Finally, the FMCSA study determined that incorporating crash accountability into CSA scores would cost the agency between $3.9 million and $11.1 million each year, depending on the number of accidents and appeals.
Initially, FMCSA announced it would accept public comments on the study until February 23, but the agency has since extended the comment deadline through March 25.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a study on Jan. 21 that found the difficulty and cost of including crash fault in the Compliance Safety and Analysis safety enforcement system outweighs the benefits. FMCSA’s report states that data sourced from police accident reports do not necessarily provide enough information to determine fault, and that incorporating fault does not consistently improve CSA’s ability to predict crash risk. Furthermore, police accident reports that do not determine crash fault would need to go through a lengthy examination and appeals process, thus delaying the incorporation of the crash fault into a drivers Safety Measurement System score. Because SMS rankings only use crash data from the preceding two-year period, such a delay could make crash-fault data incorporation a moot point. Finally, the FMCSA study determines that incorporating crash accountability into CSA scores would cost the agency between $3.9 million and 11.1 million each year, depending on the number of accidents and appeals in each year.
Stakeholder organizations including the American Trucking Association and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association have already weighed in on the decision, faulting FMCSA for failing to take into consideration the “accountability” portion of the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program. FMCSA is accepting comments from the public on the study until February 23.
On April 23, 2014, in response to a petition filed by Stoughton Trailers, LLC, the United States International Trade Commission commenced preliminary phase antidumping and countervailing duty investigations of Chinese 53-foot domestic dry containers. In September and November, respectively, the Department of Commerce announced affirmative preliminary determinations of countervailable subsidization and dumping of 53-foot container imports from China. DOC instructed U.S. Customs to collect deposits and place them in escrow based on preliminary rates.
On December 31, DOC amended its initial preliminary anti-dumping determination. Importers of record must pay the new dumping margin, set at 98.82 percent. The margin payments are held in escrow until the final determination is made by the ITC and the margin is subject to change during the ongoing investigation.
If both the ITC and the DOC make affirmative final determinations that Chinese 53-foot domestic dry container imports materially injury domestic industry, then the DOC will issue an anti-dumping order. If either the ITC’s or the DOC’s final determination is negative, no anti-dumping order will be issued. A final determination is expected this spring.
On December 31, the Surface Transportation Board issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would require all Class I railroads to provide publically-available weekly reports detailing service performance data. This is the latest step in a series of measures taken by the STB to improve service issues and alleviate congestion along rail lines. The proposed regulation dates back to a field service hearing in Fargo, ND, where the Board heard grievances regarding the lack of publically available rail service metrics and the need for standardized performance data.
The STB began collecting service metric reports on October 8 through a temporary data collection order. The Association of American Railroads (AAR) responded to this weekly service data report mandate with a letter to STB on behalf of its Class I freight railroad members. In the letter, AAR asked that the Board institute a notice and comment rulemaking process. Railroads capture information in different ways, according to AAR, and a comment process would allow railroads to explain their service data specificities. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking acknowledges AAR’s request and asks for comments on the weekly reports to be submitted by March 2, 2015.
On December 18, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced the elimination of the requirement that drivers file a Driver Vehicle Inspection Report, regardless of the outcome of truck and trailer pre and post-trip inspections. The final rule retains the requirement that drivers perform these pre- and post-trip inspections, but removes the mandate that a DVIR be submitted if no defect is found. Eliminating the no-defect DVIR paperwork burden will save the trucking industry $1.7 billion annually, according to FMCSA, and that 95 percent of DVIR reports submitted show no defects. The final rule went into effect December 18, 2014 and is being cited by the Obama administration as one of the largest paperwork reduction rules in the last decade.
On November 28, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced it was seeking input on potential plans to increase the minimum levels of financial responsibility for motor carriers. In an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking titled, “Financial Responsibility for Motor Carriers, Freight Forwarders, and Brokers,” the agency stated it was looking for feedback related to liability coverage for bodily injury or property, the establishment of financial responsibility requirements for passenger carrier brokers, the implementation of financial responsibly requirements for brokers and freight forwarders, and the revision to existing rules concerning self-insurance and trip insurance.
MAP-21 directed the Secretary of Transportation to assess the appropriateness of the current $750,000 insurance minimum requirements. In April of 2014 FMCSA determined the threshold was inadequate to cover crash costs and initiated a rulemaking process. The ANPR is the first step toward an increase in the minimum insurance requirements but does not specify what the new minimum might be. Rather, FMCSA included in the ANPR 26 questions for industry stakeholders to address in comments. Included among the questions is one asking whether an increase in financial responsibility requirements would affect small and large motor carriers differently. FMCSA also solicits information on how an increase in the minimums would affect the ability of a carrier to obtain insurance and what a reasonable phase-in period for insurance companies and motor carriers might look like. Responses from those interested in informing the rulemaking process are due February 26, 2015.
On November 25, the US Department of Transportationannounced a delay to the publication of its Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Limits Study until 2015. The study was mandated by Congress in MAP-21 and originally scheduled for completion this month. Congress requested the report “address differences in safety risks, infrastructure impacts, and the effects on levels of enforcement between trucks operating at or within federal truck size and weight limits and trucks legally operating in excess of federal limits.” In their announcement, US DOT acknowledged that many people, including members of Congress, were waiting for the release of the report and cited their commitment to producing “the most objective, data-driven report possible” as justification for the delay.
In addition to announcing the delay, USDOT opened a public docket where interested parties can submit comments on work done so far on the study. The agency also uploaded comments already submitted so far through various informal methods. Comments can be viewed and submitted here.
Several ocean carriers announced they would be instituting congestion surcharges on cargo destined for West Coast ports as a result of labor unrest affecting the ability to move goods throughout Southwestern ports. Mediterranean Shipping Co., Hanjin Shipping, Hyundai Merchant Marine, MSC, NYK Line and Zim Integrated Shipping Services were among those who announced they would be instituting additional fees, ranging from $800 to $1,000 per 40-foot container. The companies justified the surcharge as compensation for higher costs related to slow productivity, staffing limitations and other labor related issues.
In response to the surcharge announcements, the Federal Maritime Commission issued a memo reminding ocean carriers that they must provide shippers 30 days notice before applying any tariffs. The FMC also reminded carriers that surcharges cannot be applied to cargo already en-route or at port destination. The agency stated that they continue to review congestion surcharge rules in carrier tariffs and are gathering information from carriers regarding implementation of these surcharges.
On December 4, FMC announced all 15 ocean carrier members of the Transpacific Stabilization Agreement are foregoing port congestion surcharges until 2015.
Officials at the Port of New York and New Jersey announced this month chassis providers agreed to the creation of a market pool as a means to reduce port congestion. Currently, three competing chassis providers serve New York-New Jersey. Under the new agreement, providers will soon contribute equipment to a centrally managed, port-wide pool, known as a “gray” chassis pool. The agreement aims to increase efficiency at the Port and help cut down on delays by truckers who must make separate trips to pick up, drop off, or exchange equipment. The grey chassis pool will be managed by a third party and serve under contract to the pool’s governing board, comprised of representatives from each chassis contributor. An RFP soliciting management of the pool should be published in mid-December.
The New York-New Jersey pool is similar to the agreement announced by Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles late last month. In the Southwest, the four largest chassis companies agreed to a gray chassis pool to address chronic chassis shortage and dislocation issues. While details are still being worked out, the first phase of the pool should begin February 1, 2015. At that point, equipment and other assets of the four chassis pools will be shared throughout the 13 terminals at the Southern California gateways, and a third party will manage billing. The agreement will encompass 95 percent of chassis within the two ports.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced on October 2 it was reopening the Projects of National and Regional Significance Survey. The survey, called for in MAP-21, originally ran from May 29 to June 30 and was designed to provide Congress with a comprehensive catalogue of projects needing funding. In order to provide Congress with a more thorough catalogue of PNRS projects around the country, US DOT re-opened the survey to\provide interested parties with another opportunity to submit projects for consideration. Important to note is that the survey is not attached to any funding at this time; PNRS was defunded by appropriators in 2012.
US DOT has also opened up response eligibility during this second PNRS survey round. The agency is now soliciting projects not only from those eligible to apply for PNRS funding under MAP-21, including states, transit agencies and tribal organizations, but also projects from metropolitan planning organizations, seaports, railroads, cities, coalitions of government, economic development organizations, and joint power authorities compromised of multiple local governments. During an October 6 webinar, FHWA officials stated that they planned to divide survey responses into three tiers. The first tier will consist of projects from entities that definitely qualify for funding under MAP-21’s PNRS program. The second tier will be comprised of projects that most likely qualify, albeit with lingering questions such as project cost thresholds. The third tier will be projects submitted to the survey that don’t qualify for PNRS funding but that still need funds in order to be completed. Examples of tier three projects would be those included by non-eligible projects sponsors.
The Surface Transportation Board announced that starting October 22, all Class I railroads must publicly file weekly reports detailing service performance data. The new requirement came on the heels of a field hearing in Fargo, ND, where STB officials heard testimony from federal, state and local officials discussing the dire rail shortages across the Midwest. Stakeholders blamed the shortage on a combination of weather, congestion in Chicago and the Twin Cities, rising rail costs and the increasing volumes of products needing to be shipped.
According to STB, the weekly reports aim to increase accountability and provide the board with additional data to assess how best to move forward in solving the rail shortage crises. Included in the reports from the Class I’s should be information on system average train speed for intermodal types, average terminal dwell time, total cars on the line for nine car types, and the total number of trains held short of destination or a scheduled interchange for longer than six hours per train type.
In response to Chinese regulators denying approval to P3 operations this summer, major shipping lines have responded by forming new alliances in east-west and north-south trade. Vessel sharing agreements operating on US shores require approval from the Federal Maritime Commission. So far, the agency appears willing to grant approval.
Two alliances — Ocean Three and 2M — received approval from the FMC this month. The 2M alliance, comprised of Maersk Line and Mediterranean Shipping Co., was approved by a 4–1 vote by Commissioners on October 9. The agreement would give the two companies around a 15 percent market share of the trans-Pacific trade routes and a 37 percent share of the trans-Atlantic market.
Ocean Three, a vessel sharing agreement between CMA CGM, China Shipping and UASC, earned approval from the FMC on October 6; operations are expected to begin in Jan. 2015. The quick approval process generated controversy. Because the market share of the alliance was less than 30 percent, FMC staff waived the 45 day approval period, irking Commissioner Richard Lidinsky, who vowed to institute an internal review. Commissioner Mario Cordero stood by staff, maintaining they correctly applied administrative law when reviewing Ocean Three. This alliance is not expected to face opposition from China, largely due to the involvement from China Shipping Co.
Still awaiting FMC approval is an alliance between CSAV Group, Hapag Lloyd, Hamburg Sud, Alianca and NYK. The shipping companies filed a vessel-sharing agreement on September 23.
The Federal Maritime Commission announced a series of forums at ports across the country aimed to promote dialogue on the causes and implications of congestion at U.S. Ports. The first was held on September 15 at the Port of Los Angeles and moderated by Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Mario Cordero. The second was hosted by Federal Maritime Commissioner William P. Doyle and FMC Commissioner Richard A. Lidinsky, Jr. in Baltimore on October 1. Discussions centered on truck gate/ wait times, gate “appointment” systems, chassis ownership and deployment, ocean carrier arrival “bunching” impacts on port/gate congestion, infrastructure and measures already taken to address identified issues. Some attendees placed port congestion blame on low ocean shipping rates, stating that as shippers pressure ocean carriers for lower rates, ocean carriers pressure terminal operators to cut costs, and in turn terminal operators can’t invest in much-needed upgrades.
Two additional forums are scheduled for the coming month. FMC Commissioner Michael A. Khouri will hold an informational Forum, “International Supply Chain Efficiency: Challenges Facing South Atlantic Ports” in Charleston, S.C. on October 30. FMC Commissioner Rebecca F. Dye will hold an informational forum, “International Supply Chain Efficiency: Challenges Facing Gulf Coast Ports,” in New Orleans on November 3.
The Federal Motor Carrier Association announced its plan to extend its Hours of Service of Drivers Regulations Information Collection Request, with a modification to reduce the hours of burden associated with the request. Specifically, FMCSA stated it had adjusted the hours of burden estimation associated with maintaining driver Record of Duty Statuses. The current burden estimate is 184.38 million hours, approved by OMB in 2011. Because this ICR expires on December 31, 2014, FMCSA is requesting a revision and extension, with the new estimated burden set at 106.89 million hours.
Program adjustments resulting in a reduction of estimated burden are two-fold. FMCSA estimates fewer commercial vehicle drivers are subject to the HOS rules, because short-haul drivers are exempt from maintaining RODS and also given that some drivers are voluntarily using electronic HOS technology. FMCSA is asking for comments in response to the accuracy of the revised burden estimate and comments on ways that the burden could further be minimized without reducing the quality of the collected information. Comments are due October 14, 2014.
The Federal Maritime Commission announced it will hold two public forums to discuss causes and implications of congestion at U.S. Ports. The first is scheduled for September 15 in San Pedro, California and the second is tentatively scheduled for October 1 in Baltimore, Md. Planned topics for discussion include port congestion, truck turn times, stakeholder impact, use of technology to reduce congestion and related fees, and the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach’s PierPass program. The FMC invites interested stakeholders and members of the public to both attend the forums. The forums are scheduled at a time when tuckers, shippers and receivers face increasing congestion, delays and a shortage of container chassis.
The San Pedro forum will be moderated by Chairman Mario Cordero, who will report back to the full Commission on issues raised at the event. Commissioner William P. Doyle is scheduled to lead the public forum in Baltimore.
The Federal Railroad Administration announced a series of amendments to regulations governing passenger and freight railroad positive train control systems. Beginning October 21, positive train control unequipped freight trains can continue to operate on PTC-equipped main tracks in rail yards, provided the cars follow appropriate safety procedures. The final rule also clarifies regulations governing highway-rail grade crossing warning systems. Warning systems that fail to properly perform or experience “essential component” failure must be repaired immediately, though the FRA has not stated in certain terms what constitutes essential components.
Additionally, the final rule amends procedures governing en route PTC failure. Acknowledging the potential economic risks of reduced rail capacity caused by PTC failure, the FRA has increased flexibility for railroads by removing the requirement that absolute blocks be established in advance of handicapped trains. According to the final rulemaking, when a component of a PTC system fails en route, trains no longer must travel at restricted speeds until an absolute block is established ahead of a train. Instead, trains may proceed to a designated repair or exchange location.
On Aug. 26, the world’s two largest container lines filed an agreement with the Federal Maritime Commission noting their intention to share vessels and engage in related cooperative activities. The FMC has 45 days, or until October 11, to approve or deny the agreement. The 2M was proposed after China rejected a larger vessel sharing alliance, between Maersk, MSC and CMA CGM; CMA CGM is the world’s third largest container line.
According to the filing, the agreement, scheduled to go into effect early next year, would encompass 185 vessels with a combined capacity of 2.1 million TEUs. It would allow Maersk and MSC to consolidate services through the utilization of fewer large-capacity ships, resulting in a lower per-container operating cost. It is unclear whether, if approved by the FMC, the alliance would also gain approval from China, though the two companies have stated their optimism.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced a series of improvements to its Safety Measurement System website after soliciting feedback from system users, including motor carriers, law enforcement personnel and industry representatives. Chief among the changes is a new effort to highlight the correlation between SMS and crash risk on the front page of the site.
The website improvements, effective August 2, are aimed at providing users with clearer descriptions and more intuitive navigation features. FMCSA has removed the Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories from the front summary page to within the carriers’ drilldown pages and simplified the presentation of data for motor carriers seeking to understand how to improve their BASIC scores. Additionally, the changes highlight carriers’ individual performance trends in each BASIC rather than offering a percentile ranking, which measures carriers against one another. SMS website changes do not alter the SMS methodology or affect a carrier’s safety rating.
June was a busy month for Chinese regulators, tasked with approving a global operational alliance between the world’s three largest container carriers — Maersk Line Ltd., Mediterranean Shipping Co., SA and CMA-CGM SA. After Europe and the United States gave a stamp of approval to the alliance, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce vetoed the effort, citing estimations showing the alliance would control 47 percent of the Asia-to-Europe container-shipping market; the threshold for approving such alliances is 30 percent. The Chinese Ministry stated the companies &dlquo;failed to demonstrate that the alliance would bring more benefit than harm or that it is in line with the public interest.&drquo;
The P3 network was designed to improve efficiency and control costs through the authorization of companies to share vessels and engage cooperatively in trade between Asia, the United States, Europe and the Mediterranean. With the announcement of the Chinese decision, and their subsequent denial of a right to appeal, the alliance is dead.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced an interpretive rule and statement of policy on modifications to the Motor Carrier Management Information System. States may now show adjudication results related to roadside inspection violations. The data system and policy changes announced by FMCSA through a notification in the June 6 federal register will allow drivers, motor carriers, and members of the public to file a Request for Data Review in FMCSA&srquo;s DataQs system and to seek acknowledgement of the adjudication in the inspection record. The change in the State data systems will parallel corresponding changes to FMCSA data systems. A citation that has been resolved through a judicial or administrative process, regardless of outcome, is considered to be adjudicated.
On December 2, 2013, FMCSA announced proposed changes to MCMIS that would allow the States to reflect the results of adjudicated citations related to roadside inspection violation data collected in MCMIS. The adjudicated results will impact the use of roadside violation data in other FMCSA data system. These changes are intended to improve roadside inspection data quality.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposed a new rule that would prohibit motor carriers, shippers, receivers, or transportation intermediaries from coercing drivers to operate a commercial motor vehicle in violation of federal motor carrier safety regulations. This proposal was published in the Federal Register on May 13 and would establish procedures for drivers to report incidents of coercion to the FMCSA and determine proper actions for the agency. Mandated by Congress as part of 2012’s surface transportation bill, MAP-21, the proposed regulation would allow the FMCSA to impose a civil penalty of up to $11,000 per offense while reserving the right to suspend or revoke the operating authority of a carrier, broker, or freight forwarder.
In the proposed rule, FMCSA defines coercion as a threat to withhold or witholding business or employment from a driver for objecting to operate a vehicle under conditions that would violate FMCSA regulations. A driver would have 60 days to report the claim to an agency representative. The FMCSA is accepting comments on this proposed rulemaking through Aug. 11, 2014.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced a new report, “Evaluating the Potential Safety Benefits of Electronic Hours-of-Service Recorders,” which shows the safety benefit of crash and HOS violation rate reductions for trucks equipped with HOS Recorders, according to the agency. Released on May 12, the study was designed to evaluate whether trucks with recorders have a lower crash and violation risk than those without the recording devices.
The study, which was conducted by the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and commissioned by the FMCSA, noted that trucks equipped with HOS Recorders had a 53 percent lower driving-related HOS violation rate and a 49 percent lower non-driving related HOS violation rate. The study also found that commercial motor vehicles equipped with HOS Recorders have an 11.7 percent lower total crash rate and a 5.1 percent lower preventable crash risk than trucks without the devices. This report comes after the White Office of Management and Budget cleared the FMCSA’s supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking for electronic logging devices in March.
In a letter to the Comptroller General of the United States, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Chairman of the subcommittee on Highways and Transit Rep. Tom Petri – R-WI requested an evaluation by the Government Accountability Office of two studies used to justify changes to federal hours of service (HOS) regulations for commercial motor vehicle operators.
The letter, released on March 31, calls on the GAO to examine a recent study that assessed the effectiveness of the 34-hour restart provision. In GAO’s assessment of the study, Reps. Shuster and Petri are seeking information on whether FMCSA collected proper safety data, whether the number of surveyed drivers and type of drivers were representative of the larger driver population and how daytime traffic influenced safety outcomes. The chairmen also called on the GAO to report to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee the soundness of the data and methodology used by the FMCSA in its Regulatory Impact Analysis portion of the HOS rulemaking.
The Surface Transportation Board convened a hearing on April 10 to provide interested parties the opportunity to report on recent service problems in the United States and to hear from industry executives on their plans to address these issues. The hearing featured testimony from farmers and agriculture producers who claimed that without the timely delivery of fertilizer, they will not be able to begin their spring 2014 planting as planned.
The Board, recognizing the important need to meet fast approaching planting deadlines and the vital role of fertilizer in agriculture, directed Canadian Pacific Railway Company and BNSF Railway Company to develop plans for delivering fertilizer shipments for the spring planting. The Board also required CP and BNSF to provide weekly status reports over the next six weeks regarding the delivery of fertilizer on their networks. While issuing its directive to CP and BNSF on April 15, STB also said that it will continue to closely monitor rail service data and consider other efforts to address service issues.
The Department of Transportation’s comprehensive truck size and weight study, which is required to be sent to Congress later this year, was subject this month to an independent panel from the Transportation Research Board. On April 8, the TRB independent review panel reported that the documentation, or desk scans, being used to produce the study “represents a missed opportunity,” and that the desk scans, “failed to provide a complete synthesis of past studies and allow for adequate comparison of current and past studies.”
The independent review also faulted the desk scans for failing to provide a complete identification of alternative methods, tools and data for estimating the impacts that change in size and weight regulations might have on the current study or in future reports. The independent TRB panel will conduct one final peer review of the technical analysis reports that will be part of the study, and share its results later this spring. The Federal Highway Administration will hold a public outreach meeting on May 6 to share an update on the MAP-21 mandated study.
One week after discussing his outline for surface transportation spending, President Barack Obama revealed the administration’s budget request for FY 2015. Unveiled on March 4, the President’s budget includes a total of $91 billion dollars in budgetary resources for the Department of Transportation. Also featured in the FY 2015 budget was a preview of the President’s 4-year $302 billion transportation reauthorization bill that would inject $63 billion into the ailing Highway Trust Fund over the next four years by reforming the corporate tax code.
The President’s authorization proposal includes a four-year, $10 billion multimodal freight grant program and $1.25 billion annually over the next four years for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program. The proposal gives $4 billion over the next four years for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and proposes to modernize the permitting process for infrastructure projects. The budget also establishes an independent National Infrastructure Bank that leverages private and public capital to support infrastructure projects of national and regional significance. At a March 12 House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the President’s FY 2015 budget request for DOT, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said the administration would submit a bill to Congress in April outlining the specifics of the President’s budget. The HTF is projected to reach insolvency as soon as late July 2014.
Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping Co and CMA CGM cleared the final hurdle in establishing their Vessel Sharing Agreement as part of the P3 Alliance on March 21, as the Federal Maritime Commission gave final approval to the agreement, which became effective on March 24. As part of the vote to approve the network, FMC pledged to implement new reporting requirements specifically tailored to monitor the agreement. The alliance will be required to provide advance notice of service modifications or cancellations that have the potential to affect average weekly capacity. FMC approved the agreement by a 4-1 vote, with the sole dissenting vote coming from Commissioner Richard Lidinsky.
This alliance between the world’s three largest shipping companies is still awaiting approval from regulators in China. Should the P3 Alliance receive final regulatory and legal clearance in China and Europe, the resulting partnership would control over 2.5 million 20-foot-equipment container units, around 14.7 percent of worldwide volume. The number of vessels in the east-west trade would decline from 346 to 255, though total capacity would not decrease.
On March 12, the White House Office of Management and Budget gave its stamp of approval on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’ supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking on Electronic Logging Devices. As part of the new rule, ELDs would be required to be synchronized with a truck’s engine to display when the engine is on, when the truck is in motion, how long the truck has been in motion and the number of miles traveled. Also included in the rulemaking is a proposal allowing printers to be attached to ELDs so driver activity graphs can be printed for law enforcement. The SNPRM prohibits motor carriers from using ELD data to harass drivers and institutes a complaint process which could result in an $11,000 fine for any carrier found to be in violation of the new harassment rules.
The SNPRM was published in the Federal Register on March 28 and will go through a 60 day public comment period before undergoing final review by DOT. Initiated in 2012, this latest ELD rulemaking comes after a previous rule was vacated by the courts.
A long awaited audit of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability Program was released by the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General on March 5. The audit, requested by leadership of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, faulted FMCSA for not ensuring CSA data was complete, the system was following best technological practices, and the system data was being used correctly by the states. According to the report, only half of active interstate carriers had implemented data as required, which affect calculations of carriers’ safety performance. A DOT policy of deactivating registration numbers for carriers who fail to submit required information only began this March. The IG report also faulted FMCSA for failing to implement the CSA enforcement intervention process nationwide.
The IG report noted that FMCSA faced challenges in implementing CSA intervention processes nationwide, including developing and deploying software training for states in a timely manner and working with its offices and partners to ensure that states apply the interventions consistently. However, the report did credit FMCSA by saying the agency has “strengthened its control to improve the quality of state-reported data used to assess carriers’ safety performance.” In February 2014, the Government Accountability Office released a report calling for significant revisions to the CSA program, which was launched by DOT in December 2010.
The Government Accountability Office released a report on February 3 that called for revisions to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Compliance, Safety and Accountability Program. The GAO study was mandated as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 and examines the effectiveness of the CSA program in assessing safety risk for motor carriers. The GAO found that FMCSA faces challenges in reliably assessing safety risk for the majority of carriers because many of the regulations FMCSA uses to calculate Safety Measurement System scores, a key component of the CSA Program, are not violated frequently enough for them to be strongly linked to a carrier’s crash risk. The GAO study also found that, due to infrequent inspections of carriers, FMCSA methodology is limited because of insufficient information.
Supporting their rulemakings, FMCSA released a study from the Volpe Center, an organization within the Department of Transportation, on February 5 that found the new SMS is more effective at identifying commercial truck companies for enforcement than the system it replaced. According to the report, “SMS as a tool is effectively supporting FMCSA in its mission to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses by improving safety and compliance. The SMS gives FMCSA’s CSA intervention process strong candidates for safety improvement by identifying groups of carriers through non compliance and high crash risk.” The Volpe Center’s report shows that SMS is identifying carriers with higher future crash rate regardless of carrier size and through varying amounts of safety data, allowing the FMCSA to hold a large portion of the trucking industry accountable. The previous approach, SafeStat, was in use until 2007 as a tool to identify the riskiest carriers.
The deadline for submitting public comments for the initial draft designation of the Primary Freight Network was February 15, and industry stakeholders from across the transportation community gave their opinions on the Federal Highway Administration’’s methodology and results. A 26,966 mile long network of highways and roads, the stated purpose of the PFN is to allow the federal government to assist states in strategically directing resources toward improved movement of freight on highways. Over 300 comments were received by the Department of Transportation on route modifications and policy suggestions.
The PFN was limited to 27,000 miles by Congress as part of 2012’s surface transportation reauthorization bill, MAP-21. Many of the comments called for that mileage cap to be removed, while over 130 comments suggested the inclusion of intermodal connectors and for the PFN and the National Freight Network, a larger system that the PFN will be folded into, to be multimodal. The funding issue that is looming over the transportation industry was not absent from the PFN comment process, with many comments requesting funding once the PFN was significantly improved to reflect the realities of the national highway system.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced it will expand federal authority to shut down trucking companies that have a history of “purposely violating federal safety regulations.” The finalized Patterns of Safety Violations rule, which appeared in the Jan. 22 edition of the Federal Register, would allow the agency to shut down trucking companies based on patterns of safety violations by the company or its leaders. The FMCSA would also have the ability to revoke a company’s authority to operate freight service, allowing the agency to exert authority in specific cases where an investigation alone does not result in an unsatisfactory safety fitness rating for a carrier.
Called for in SAFETEA-LU and amended by MAP-21, the rule will also allow the agency to target company officers to ensure that repeat offenders do not move from company to company in order to avoid penalties. The new measure will allow FMCSA to train up to 300 agents to carry out enforcement of the new rule. The notice of proposed rulemaking was published in November of 2012 and the final rule will be effective on February 21, 2014.
The year 2013 brought a new face to lead the Department of Transportation. Former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx replaced Ray LaHood as the Secretary of Transportation in June, and there were more departures in January as DOT saw much of its senior staff change with the calendars. The former Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari left his post shortly before the end of 2013 and joined Parsons Brinckerhoff as the National Director of Strategic Consulting. Mr. Porcari was replaced on an acting basis by Victor Mendez, the Federal Highway Administrator. Administrator Mendez’s duties as FHWA administrator were passed to Deputy Administrator Greg Nadeau.
Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff replaced Polly Trottenberg as Undersecretary for Policy on an acting basis. Undersecretary Rogoff has been replaced by Ms. Therese McMillan as acting Administrator of the FTA. Ms. Trottenberg left the agency to join New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s cabinet as Transportation Commissioner in January. There was also change at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as David Strickland was replaced on an interim basis by David Friedman, who formerly was Administrator Strickland’s deputy. Amy Scarton, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, has also left her position at DOT and joined the Washington state Department of Transportation.
On Jan. 30, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released a third party field study on the 34-hour restart provision within the new Hours of Service rule that provides “scientific evidence that the restart provision in the current hours-of-service rule for truck drivers is more effective at combating fatigue than the prior version,” according to the FMCSA. The study found drivers who began their work week with just one night period of rest, as compared to the two nights mandated currently, exhibited more lapses of attention, reported greater sleepiness and showed increased lane deviation throughout the day. The Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Center and Pulsar Informatics, a Philadelphia based behavioral research firm, conducted the field research and released the report.
According the agency, this is one of the largest real-world studies ever conducted with truck drivers. The study included over 100 participants who drover nearly 415,000 miles over 1,260 days. Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), who has sponsored legislation to roll back the new HOS rules, called the study “worthless” and the American Trucking Associations has voiced its disapproval of the report, saying, “this short report is lacking critical analyses on several important issues.”
On December 5, the Federal Maritime Commission issued a request for additional information from Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping Co., and CMA CGM Group on their proposed vessel sharing agreement that was filed as part of the planned P3 Alliance. The FMC’s request halts judgment on the Alliance’s vessel sharing agreement until the trio submits necessary information to the Commission and a second regulatory review period of 45 days is completed.
The FMC convened a global regulatory summit on December 17 with representatives from China and the European Union in Washington, D.C. The Summit focused on issues concerning global carrier agreements and alliance as well as how regulators could keep up with the rapidly evolving maritime landscape.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced changes to improve the uniformity of its Motor Carrier Management Information System on December 2. The updates are designed to improve uniformity in the treatment of inspection data and come as the agency is facing two pending lawsuits over the accuracy of the driver safety database. The changes to the system will remove violations from FMCSA’s databases for drivers who can show that a citation was dismissed. Previously, the database did not show whether a citation had been overturned by a court ruling. The FMCSA said it would not retroactively update the status on citations issued prior to the announcement.
The MCMIS contains all the roadside inspections from state and local authorities. This information is used to determine a driver’s Safety Measurement System score, which is then used in FMCSA’s Carrier Safety and Accountability Program as well as pre-employment screening programs.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a notice of regulatory guidance on December 19 further clarifying its Hours of Service Rule 30 minute break exemption for short-haul drivers. The FMCSA originally agreed to suspend for short-haul drivers enforcement of the 30 minute break requirement in August after a U.S. Court of Appeals struck down the provision of the new Hours of Service rules that went into effect on July 1, 2013. The agency later defined short-haul drivers as being a non commercial driver’s licensed operator who is operating within 100 air miles of their normal reporting location, or as someone who is a CDL holder operating within 150 air miles of their normal reporting location.
This notice provides that short-haul drivers who occasionally exceed the time and distance limits that qualify them as short-haul are subject to the 30 minute break requirement and must prepare a record-of-duty-status for that service day. However, the goal of the break rule would be satisfied if drivers in these situations rest at the earliest safe opportunity after exceeding those short-haul limits. The driver would then need to note in their RODS why the break was not taken within the required eight hours.
A month and a half after its October 1 deadline, the Federal Highway Administration announced the establishment of the Primary Freight Network, a combination of highways and freight corridors essential to goods movement across the United States. The stated purpose of the PFN is to allow DOT to assist states in strategically directing resources to projects and initiatives that improve the efficiency of freight transportation on highways and the initial designation of the full National Freight Network – of which the PFN is one component — will be announced in early 2014. In addition to the PFN, the NFN will include portions of Interstate highways not designated by the PFN and Critical Rural Freight Corridors, which will be designated by states.
The agency’s PFN contains 26,966 miles of centerline highways deemed critical to freight movement across North America. The Congressionally mandated designation of the PFN allows for a maximum of 27,000 centerline miles, but allows for the possible addition of 3,000 miles of existing and planned roadways that are essential to efficient freight movement in the future. FHWA’s PFN is void of all National Highway System intermodal connectors and has received much criticism from stakeholders who advocate the 27,000 mile cap is unrealistic.
At the urging of stakeholders, the FHWA extended the comment period on the PFN until January 17, 2014.
On November 19, the Federal Highway Administration released a proposal identifying almost 27,000 centerline miles of roadways and interstate highways as the Primary Freight Network. The designation of the PFN was required by the 2012 surface transportation reauthorization law, MAP-21, and was limited to 27,000 miles by Congress. In addition to establishing the PFN, the FHWA’s notice also identifies an additional 14,000 miles of comprehensive, connected roadways that are necessary to transporting goods throughout the nation. While money has not been dedicated to the PFN, law states the purpose of designating such a network is to allow the federal government to assist states in strategically directing resources toward improved movement of freight on highways.
Freight intermodal connectors that are part of the national highway system were identified if they were within urban areas with a population at or above 200,000, but only on the draft initial 41,000 mile PFN map. When the map was whittled to 27,000 miles to comply with Congressional guidelines, all National Highway System intermodal connectors were deleted from the PFN. FHWA cited insufficient Annual Average Daily Truck Traffic as rational for dropping intermodal connectors from the PFN.
The FHWA’s draft network was based on data that included the origins and destinations of freight, shipment tonnage and value, truck traffic volumes, and population centers. The Primary Freight Network will be weaved into a larger National Freight Network that will include all interstate highways as well as rural highways that have chosen by the states.
Shipping conglomerates Maersk, CMA CGA Group, and Mediterranean Shipping Co. filed a formal notice of agreement with the Federal Maritime Commission on October 30 to share vessels on trade routes connecting North America, Europe and Asia as part of the proposed P3 Alliance. Should the P3 receive approval from regulators in Asia, Europe, and North America, the new alliance would control about 43 percent of the Europe to Asia shipping market, 24 percent of the Trans-Pacific market, and 40 to 43 percent of the Trans-Atlantic shipping market, according to FMC statistics.
The P3 Alliance would control over 2.5 million 20-foot-equipment container units, or around 14.7 percent of worldwide volume. While total capacity would not decrease as part of the new alliance, the number of vessels in the east-west trade would decline from 346 to 255. When asked about the agreement, FMC Chairman Mario Cordero said he was “keeping an open mind about the parameters and impact of this agreement until it can be fully analyzed.”
Commissioner William Doyle expressed concern regarding the alliance’s plan to reduce the number of vessels in east-west service, saying “I do not want the alliance’s operations to harm or otherwise negatively impact the U.S.-flag international fleet when decisions are made to cascade or otherwise eliminate ships from service.
Fellow Commissioner Richard Lidinsky also noted his apprehension with the agreement. “It is clear this alliance is moving forward as if it has already met regulatory approval despite the lack of any significant filing with regulatory authorities in Europe, China, or the U.S.” said Mr. Lidinsky, “Pushing behind the scenes and placing positive stories with the press is not a substitute for proper consideration of the consequences of the massive carrier alignment.”
On December 5 the FMC requested more information on the proposed P3 Network Vessel Sharing Agreement, delaying its effective date. Once additional information is submitted to the FMC, a new 45-day regulatory review period on the agreement will begin.
Had the agency not requested additional information, the agreement would have taken effect on December 8, 2013. The FMC could block the agreement if it results in “unreasonable increases in transportation costs” and “unreasonable decreases in services.”
Due to the government shutdown, there were no significant regulatory updates in the month of October.
In a letter to Congress on September 19, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx refused to offer a timeline for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s field study on the restart provision of the new hours of service rules. As part of the surface transportation reauthorization passed in 2012, known as MAP-21, the Department of Transportation was required to complete a field study on the 34 hour restart provision of the hours of service regulations; the study, which is still outstanding, was due by March of this year.
In his letter, Secretary Foxx said the delay in the study is a result of years of research and analysis of public comments. Secretary Foxx wrote “[The delay] is also the result of input from a wide range of stakeholders, including trucking companies, drivers, law enforcement, unions and safety advocates.”
Secretary Foxx’s letter to Congress was written in response to an August 29 letter from 51 Republican members of Congress that outlined the lawmakers’ concerns with the new rules. Written by Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), the letter says the new regulations run “counter to commonsense” and that the 34 hour restart provision greatly reduces driver flexibility.
On September 5, the Surface Transportation Board announced the adoption of a final rule regarding disclosure requirements for transactions involving interchange agreements. The rule, which will take effect on October 5, 2013, was first offered in November 2012 and proposed additional reporting requirements for interchange commitments in the leases and sales of railroads.
As part of the final rule, the STB will require railroads to file information concerning shippers, carloads, and potential interchanging railroads on the rail line that is subject to sale or lease. Involved parties will also have to verify that the shippers on the line in the transaction have been notified and provide a case caption that indicates an interchange commitment. They will also need to provide an estimate of the lease-or-sale-price differential with and without an interchange commitment.
Interchange commitments are contractual conditions that are included in the sale or lease of a railway. They limit the ability of the purchasing railroad to interchange traffic on the rail line with a party that is not the selling or leasing railroad. While railroads will be required to issue further disclosure regarding these commitments, the sale prices will remain confidential.
On September 19, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced it was withdrawing its proposed rule creating new training standards for entry-level drivers applying for a commercial drivers license for use in interstate commerce and will issue a new rulemaking. FMCSA’s notice of proposed rulemaking first appeared in the December 26, 2007 issue of the Federal Register. In its September 19 announcement, the agency said “A new rulemaking should be initiated in lieu of completing the 2007 requirement.”
In response to the initial notice of proposed rulemaking on entry level CDL requirements, the FMCSA received over 700 comments, many of which were concerns over the proposed training standards. In listening sessions on January 7 and March 22 this year, the FMCSA faced opposition to a provision requiring a specific number of training hours as well as other aspects of the proposal.
The withdrawal of the proposed rule is also a result of new requirements set by 2012’s surface transportation reauthorization, MAP-21. In response to changes to the program in MAP-21, the FMCSA asked its Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee to provide ideas to consider in the implementation of the bill’s requirements. The FMCSA will now gather research from two different studies to determine the effectiveness of entry-level driver training. Details or a timeline on a new rulemaking have not yet been made available.
On September 5, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a notice of guidance regarding the implementation of the $75,000 surety bond requirement for brokers of property and freight forwarders. The guidance will give brokers and freight forwarders 60 days from October 1 to complete the necessary filings and comply with the new requirements. The FMCSA is raising the minimum surety bond from $10,000 to $75,000 as part of new requirements set under MAP-21, the 2012 law reauthorizing surface transportation programs.
The new surety bond requirement will take effect on October 1, but brokers and freight forwarders will have 60 days to comply with the new requirements before they lose their ability to operate. Beginning November 1, the FMCSA will begin sending notifications to parties who have not met the deadline for the bond requirement. The FMCSA will begin rescinding the operating authority for noncompliant freight forwarders and brokers 30 days after the notices have been sent. If a violator continues to function after losing their authority to operate, they could be fined in excess of $10,000. There is no program for enforcement of the new requirement on occasional brokers, who under the new rules will need to file as full time brokers, but the FMCSA will review constituent complaints in order to develop an enforcement mechanism.
On August 8, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced its enforcement policy on 30 minute break requirement for short haul operators. The announcement by the FMCSA comes after the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled on a challenge to the new Hours of Service regulations by the American Trucking Associations. The court upheld the majority of the new HOS regulations, but struck down the requirement for short haul drivers to rest for 30 minutes after working for eight consecutive hours.
The August 8 announcement defined a short haul driver as being a non commercial driver’s licensed operator who is operating within 100 air miles of their normal reporting location, or as someone who is a CDL holder operating within 150 air miles of their normal reporting location. The FMCSA’s announcement to immediately suspend enforcement of the 30 minute break provision preempts the implementation date of the Court of Appeals’ ruling by one month. The court’s decision as well as FMCSA’s subsequent announcement, which states these exemptions effective August 2, come one month after the Hours of Service rule went into effect.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a notice of proposed rulemaking on August 7 that would alleviate the regulatory burden that motor carrier operators submit a Driver Vehicle Inspection Report if there were no defects found. Under the proposed rule, drivers would still have to conduct pre and post trip inspections, but would only be required to submit a DVIR if a defect was found.
The FMCSA estimated that eliminating the reporting requirement would save the trucking industry over $1.5 billion annually and would eliminate a regulatory burden without adversely impacting safety. The Agency initiated a comment period on the proposed rule that will run until October 7. The FMCSA estimates that about 95% of reports contain no mention of defects. The Agency issued a similar rule last year for operators of intermodal equipment trailers.
On August 23, the U.S District Court for the Central District of California issued a ruling prohibiting the enforcement of three aspects of the Port of Los Angeles’ Clean Truck Program. The court’s ruling effectively ends the legal challenge of the port’s Clean Truck Program by the American Trucking Associations. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that three provisions of the ports program – the employee driver mandate, off-street parking provision, and a placarding requirement — violated the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act.
Established in 2006, the Port of LA’s Clean Truck Program instituted requirements and goals aimed at improving the air quality at the port. The program included a ban on older trucks, placarding requirement, employee driver mandate, and an off-street parking provision, that according to the port, would reduce emissions. The ATA brought a suit against the clean air program, stating the program violated the FAAAA because it regulated price, route or service of a motor carrier. In presenting its case before the court, the port argued that as a market participant, it was exempt from the FAAAA. The district court’s ruling ends five years of litigation between the ATA and Port of LA.
On August 22, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced its plan to overhaul the motor carrier registration system by 2015. The new unified system will combine four separate systems into one, while moving the process online. The online program will consist of one web-based form that will be a condensed version of the 16 forms companies currently must complete, and will be available to the public.
The FMCSA’s new unified registration system will offer tools to help the registrant through the process. Registrations will need to be updated every two years, and the new system will work with current registrations, meaning a carrier will not have to apply for a new Department of Transportation identification number until they renew their registration.
The FMCSA’s notice of final rule also includes provisions for private organizations whose operators transport hazardous materials. Hazardous materials drivers, along with for-hire carriers, brokers, and freight forwarders will now need to provide proof of insurance when they register online. There will also be a registration fee of $300. Multiple publications have reported this change is being made, in part, to combat chameleon carriers who are able to evade law enforcement by repeatedly reregistering their fleets under new names.
Although the FY 2013 Senate Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations bill was never passed, the FMCSA adhered to a request in the bill’s accompanying report: an explanation of a murky element in the agency’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program. Specifically, the Senate requested key objectives, programmatic goals, information technology system requirements, and timelines related to the driver fitness component of the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program.
In its report, FMCSA outlined a nine year plan to build the driver safety fitness determination program. In the first year, FMCSA would evaluate available data to determine the feasibility of establishing a DSFD program. The agency would also assess the feasibility of developing a severity weighting system and identify options for the driver’s crash involvement. In year two the agency plans to develop methodology aimed at identifying and intervening upon the most unsafe drivers. Years three through five would involve testing DSFD methodology, and years six through nine will be used for refining the DSFD through a public rulemaking, with ample time for comments between stages.
On July 1, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration instituted new hours-of-service rules for truck operators. Among these new regulations was a regulation that would require a break of at least 30 minutes after spending 8 hours on duty. On July 12, the FCMSA issued a notice of regulatory guidance allowing drivers to record meal time or routine stops as off-duty time, which was designed to clear some of the confusion regarding the new HOS break requirements.
On June 13, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the American Trucking Associations in their suit against the city of Los Angeles over the particulars of the Port of Los Angeles’ Clean Truck Program. The court issued a favorable ruling for the ATA in striking down two key provisions in the port’s Clean Truck Program; SCOTUS chose not to rule on whether the port could suspend or revoke port access based on noncompliance with port mandated rules.
The Board of Harbor Commissioners, which oversees the port, implemented the Clean Truck Program in 2007 after public outcry over the proposed expansion of the port. The program, among other things, discouraged owner-operators from servicing the port, mandated that all drayage companies affix a placard on their trucks, and required drivers to submit plans listing off-street parking locations for each truck.
In response to the port’]s Clean Truck Program, the ATA filed a suit against the city of Los Angeles, stating that the program preempts federal statute. The ATA cited the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, which states that “[A] State [or local government] may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier… with respect to the transportation of property.” The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2011 that the port could not “unilaterally insert itself into the contractual relationship between motor carriers and drivers.” This effectively voided the employee/driver mandate portion of the port’s program. The lower court also found that FAAAA does not preempt the agreement’s placard and parking requirements because they do not “‘have the force and effect of law.’”
After years in court, the case made its way to the Supreme Court where, on June 13, SCOTUS ruled in favor of the ATA, agreeing FAAAA makes illegal the Port’s placard and parking requirements because they relate to a motor carrier’s price, route, or service with respect to transporting property.
In a speech explaining his plan to combat climate change on June 25, President Barack Obama outlined new proposals to increase the fuel efficiency standards for heavy trucks as part of “The President’s Climate Action Plan.” In his remarks made at Georgetown University, the President said that his administration would work with trucking companies and industry representatives to set emissions standards. The President did not specify what these plans would consist of, but the EPA is expected to issue an initial draft rulemaking within 12 months. These latest fuel efficiency proposals build off fuel standards that were set by the administration two years ago.