The House version of six-year, $325 billion surface transportation authorization reached the chamber floor Tuesday as members debated the first set of amendments to the bipartisan plan approved two weeks ago by the House Transportation committee.
In trucking-related legislation, a shipper-backed highway bill amendment to increase truck weight limits to 91,000 pounds on the Interstate system for trucks with a sixth axle was defeated in an evening vote.
The legislation by Rep. Reid Ribble, which received spotty support from the trucking industry, failed by a 187-236 vote.
The bill would have given states the option of increasing the weight limit on designated federal highways. Ribble emphasized that many states already allow heavier trucks on smaller state roads, and that his bill would shift many of those trucks to the Interstates, “where they belong.” Additionally, the increased weight limits would reduce truck trips, along with fuel use and CO2 emissions.
Opponents, however, cited a Dept. of Transportation study that recommended no changes in current truck size and weight limits, additional damage to roads and bridges, and the dangers of heavier and longer vehicles.
Ribble explained that the DOT recommendation was political, and that the actual study—while inclusive because of insufficient data—actually showed that heavier trucks are more safe. Nor would the 91,000-pound limit exceed current Interstate bridge design limits; the configuration, in fact, would reduce life-cycle pavement costs. And, Ribble emphasized, the legislation in no way increased truck length. (See the amendment debate below.)
Obama opposes FMCSA reforms
Ahead of the floor debate, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy that credited the bipartisan effort, but criticized the funding level as inadequate. Instead, the Obama administration continues to push its own GROW America Act.
“Indeed, as the Nation's population rises and our existing infrastructure ages, funding at baseline levels as proposed in H.R. 22 will guarantee that roadway conditions and congestion worsen in the years ahead,” the memo reads. “The Congress should be thinking big, not locking in a worsening system.”
Among specific concerns, the statement cites provisions in the bill that require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to stop publishing some truck and bus safety data. Additionally, the White House objects to provisions that reform FMCSA and the way it develops regulations, “but the Administration has already established an effective retrospective review process without legislation.”
“The Administration is focused every day on what can be done to expand opportunity for every American,” the statement concludes. “For America to succeed, we need the best, safest infrastructure in the world, and the Federal Government needs to lead the way.”
Fuel tax increase DOA
Also Tuesday, the House Rules Committee blocked consideration of Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s (D-OR) amendment to raise the federal gas tax. The amendment would have raised federal gas and diesel taxes 15 cents over three years and indexed them to inflation.
“Congress should have the opportunity to show the courage and vision to do what Ronald Reagan did in 1982 and what seven Republican states have already done this year—raise the gas tax to provide stable and meaningful funding for transportation,” said Blumenauer. “I’m deeply disappointed that we are considering what alleges to be a six-year authorization without a real conversation about paying for it. This is a missed opportunity to provide certainty for the hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake and give states and local governments the federal partnership they need and deserve.”
Another set of amendments to H.R. 3763, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act is scheduled for consideration Wednesday.