NPC Report: Finding The Time For The Nation’s Highways

Members of Congress andthe Obama administration are currently focused on climate change, energy, and health care legislation. The funding for building and maintaining the federal highway system will expire at the end of September 2009. So who is thinking about 2009 Highway Transportation Reauthorization?

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Congressman Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is trying to find time in the Congressional schedule for consideration of a $500 billion, six-year highway reauthorization bill he plans to introduce. The bill would nearly double current spending on federal roads, bridges, and mass transit.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and the administration, however, want to delay plans to revamp the nation’s transportation system for 18 months. To accomplish this, Congress would have to agree to extend the current law and accompanying funding for the highway trust fund. Disagreement over how to fund a more than $200 billion increase in highway and transit funding presents the major obstacle to immediate consideration of Oberstar’s bill. In addition to the infrastructure components of the reauthorization, agriculture interests are focused on key policies likely to be debated during consideration of the bill.

Additional Support

Agriculture, forestry, and other shippers are also building support for the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2009 (H.R. 1799). In late March, Congressman Michaud (D-ME), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced H.R. 1799, which allows a state to authorize the operation of a vehicle with a maximum gross weight not exceeding 97,000 pounds, as long as the vehicle is equipped with at least six axles.

The current federal truck weight limit is 80,000 pounds. Allowing increased truck weights reduces traffic congestion and reduces truck-involved accidents by allowing heavier trucks to use federal highways for interstate travel rather than the smaller state and county roads. The sixth axle enhances safety and provides improved weight dispersion to prevent additional wear and tear on roadways.

Improving Efficiency

Increasing allowable truck weights will dramatically improve transportation efficiency, lowering the cost of transporting potatoes and potato products to market. Whether the opportunity comes prior to September 2009 or after, agriculture must seize the opportunity that the 2009 Reauthorization of the Highway bill provides and build the congressional support for increasing truck weights with an additional axle for U.S. long haul trucks.

Obtaining cosponsors and building support for H.R. 1799 is the first step in the process to make increased truck weights a reality.