Roads and bridges are the arteries of this nation. The commercial trucks that carry freight over them are as vital as the oxygen in blood flowing through a body’s veins. As with that body, healthy arteries are necessary for efficient functioning. While every trucker knows that the health of our nation’s infrastructure is in dismal condition, there is now some hope for a better prognosis.
The recently passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill will go a long way to addressing many of the most critical needs among the nation’s highways and bridges. It also provides funding for other transportation priorities.
More Than a Band-Aid
While the trucking industry has been pleading for government action for decades, the problems facing truckers have continued to grow. For example, in May of this year, a routine inspection of the I-40 bridge between Arkansas and Tennessee brought about an immediate shutdown.
Inspectors discovered cracks in primary support beams that made further use of the bridge impossible. What followed was a shutdown of more than three months. During this shutdown, the normal travel time of the daily traffic of more than 12,000 trucks increased nearly tenfold from just eight minutes to more than 1.25 hours. These delays cost the trucking industry more than $200 million.
This example is but one readily visible expense. Billions of dollars are lost annually in delays, damage to vehicles, increased maintenance costs, and added driver fatigue. According to the American Transportation Research Institute, the costs of this neglected infrastructure include at least 1.2 billion hours of lost productivity and $74 billion in operational and fuel costs.
Of course, the real concern is safety: it is estimated that more than 42 percent of America’s 617,000 bridges are far older than the truckers driving over them, and as many as 46,000 bridges have been flagged as structurally deficient.
On top of this, the condition of nearly half the four million miles of roads and public highways between those bridges are graded as poor or mediocre.
Where the Dollars Will Go
Surface transportation is the single biggest beneficiary of the proposed spending. A total of $477 billion will be spent over the next five years, including:
$347.5 billion for highways
$37 billion for bridges
$3.2 billion for the INFRA program
$5 billion to fund the newly created National Infrastructure Project Assistance Program
$7.5 billion for the former TIGER and BUILD programs, now called RAISE multimodal grants.
States will be tasked with spending the money provided by the legislated formula, and the grant programs will be used to accelerate some of the more critical projects.
Beyond direct dollar expenditures, the bill as passed also addresses the trucking industry with several new initiatives and programs. These include:
A Women in Trucking Advisory Board under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The wording of the charter for this new agency is “the trucking industry should explore every opportunity to encourage and support the pursuit and retention of careers in trucking by women, including through programs that support recruitment, driver training, and mentorship.”
A program for up to 3,000 drivers in the age range of 18-to-20-years-old who will receive advanced safety and driver training to qualify for interstate commerce employment.
A new advertising campaign to encourage job seekers to consider the trucking industry and other forms of transportation employment.
Significant other funds will go to improve ports and waterways, add to freight and passenger rail options, and upgrade airports. Many of these investments in logistics will, directly and indirectly, benefit the trucking industry.
What Was Eliminated
The final compromises required to get the legislation passed eliminated some measures that had concerned industry officials, such as independent contractor reclassification, additional trucker-based taxes, and rollback of hours-of-service reforms.
With a long-needed start to solving the road and bridge crisis, many trucking industry officials celebrated this bill, the largest of its kind in history, as a major milestone.