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Congress Should Pass Long-Term Highway Funding Bill | Commentary

By Kevin Burch Every day, more than 3.2 million professional truck drivers take to the road to meet our nation’s biggest and smallest freight needs. Day in and day out, they consistently deliver the goods we need today and rely on for tomorrow: food on our tables, medicine for our families and supplies for our nation’s military.  

The ability to move goods and services through our transportation networks is indeed the lifeblood of our economy. Yet, leaders on Capitol Hill, at the Department of Transportation and in the White House have unfortunately left the trucking industry in a “state of confusion” — again — by failing to pass a long-term highway bill. The Highway Trust Fund’s authorization is expiring on May 31.  

Congress’ inability to pass a long-term highway funding bill has already created challenges for many in the trucking industry, leading to delivery delays due to the unaddressed issue of congestion, higher fuel and labor costs and more maintenance headaches from potholed roads. And with the expiration of the current highway bill just a few short weeks away, failure to meet this obligation stands to be even costlier for all of us.  

Consider the impact and reach of the trucking industry. In 2013 alone, trucking generated an astounding $680 billion dollars, representing 80 percent of the nation’s freight bill. Last year, professional truck drivers collectively traveled more than 420 billion miles for the American people, moving 70 percent of the nation’s tonnage.
So, it’s no surprise that failure to pass a long-term highway funding bill is slowing the flow of goods to our economy and further deteriorating the nation’s aging infrastructure. Private investment cannot occur until both parties deconstruct their political walls and put the American people first.  

Additionally, we know short-term bills are not an ideal solution. There have been 32 extensions and five revenue shortfalls in transportation funding in the past eight years. The cost of inaction is steep, with costs toppling $200 billion dollars from delayed road construction projects, decreased productivity and stopgap measures.  

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports the costly details: congested roads total an estimated $100 billion per year in wasted time and fuel. Further, motorists are taking a financial hit by spending an average of $324 a year in vehicle repairs and operating costs when driving on unrepaired roads.  

And, the news remains bleak on the state level as prime construction season is underway. State transportation officials face the reality that Congress has not stepped up to support critical infrastructure projects. In the past few months, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has seen a jump in the number and value of delayed highway projects as states cannot count on the federal funding share.  

With hundreds of projects being canceled from coast to coast, we urge our leaders in Washington to fulfill their constitutional duty by putting an end to this delay. The livelihood of thousands of America’s families lie in the balance.  

Our country deserves a strong, efficient and modernized transportation system to uphold the nation’s commerce and infrastructure system as well as to remain globally competitive.  

To move America forward, the trucking industry needs sustainable, efficient and robust funding — not petty politics — to support our nation’s network of roads and bridges. Rather than putting up more roadblocks through inaction, Congress needs to pass a fully-funded, long-term highway funding bill that can pave the way for the future of the trucking industry — and America.  

Kevin Burch is co-chairman of Trucking Moves America Forward.

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