Opinion: Trucking Needs Better Roads to Keep Our Country Moving

May 15, 2015, 13:01 ET from American Trucking Associations

ARLINGTON, Va., May 15, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- At the conclusion of Infrastructure Week, an op-ed from American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves calls for Congress to move quickly to address our burgeoning infrastructure crisis (Editors: A high-resolution photo of Gov. Graves is available here - http://trck.ng/BGPhoto).

Trucking Needs Better Roads to Keep Our Country Moving
By Bill Graves
President and CEO
American Trucking Associations

Anyone who has ever shopped at a store, shipped a package or driven on a highway knows that trucking is the lifeblood of our economy.

Moving billions of dollars' worth of freight every year, trucking hauls nearly 70% of all the country's freight, but those movements are threatened by a very fixable problem. If trucking is our economy's lifeblood, then our highways are its circulatory system – veins and arteries that deliver life's essentials to every corner of the United States.

However, that system is increasingly under pressure by congestion, by disrepair and by neglect.

For more than two decades our leaders in Washington have neglected our highways and neglected their duty to maintain and improve our roads and bridges to give us the modern, efficient transportation system we deserve. Since 1993, our leaders have failed to grow the federal highway program – failed to ensure that its core, the Highway Trust Fund, was stable and now we are seeing the impacts of that neglect.

The numbers are hard to believe. Congestion and bottlenecks on important freight corridors cost trucking more than $9.2 billion annually – costs that ultimately get rolled into prices consumers pay at the store. Dollars invested in reducing congestion and improving our highways ultimately save us all money.

Those investments can go toward addressing the condition of our major roads: nearly a third of which are in poor or mediocre condition; or our bridges – where roughly one in four need significant repair to handle today's traffic volumes.

Poor infrastructure wastes not just money, but time - the average motorist – not truck driver – spends almost 40 hours a year stuck in traffic.

All these negative impacts are symptoms of our elected leaders not doing enough to maintain a system that in some cases is nearly 60 years old.

Since Congress last raised the tax on diesel and gasoline, the relative purchasing power – the amount of steel, concrete and asphalt we're able to buy with our tax dollars – has dropped by almost 50%. In simpler terms, we're getting half as much as we used to get for our money even as our needs and population grow.

The trucking industry already makes significant contributions to the Highway Trust Fund – more than $16.5 billion – but we're willing to do more, to pay more at the pump. We believe the fuel tax is the most efficient way of funding our critical needs, putting 98% of all revenue collected into actual construction. We're open to considering alternatives. However, those alternatives need to be efficient. Some alternatives, like tolling see 20, 25 or even 30 cents of every dollar collected siphoned off into administrative bureaucracy when those funds could be invested in actual project work.

What's most important is that our leaders put the Highway Trust Fund back onto a sustainable path into the future – a task they have so far failed to accomplish.

Congress has kicked the can down the road – a congested road marked with potholes, mind you – so often the can is dented beyond recognition. This must end.

As with most things in Washington these days, Congress only acts when there's a crisis or a deadline, and unhelpfully, we have both. If Congress does nothing by May 31, the highway program expires which will only compound the crisis we're facing with our roads and bridges.

Now, we can't reasonably expect the House and Senate to craft a full, well-funded, multi-year highway bill by the end of the month, but we cannot allow them to continue to delay for very long. Congress should act now to keep the highway program and then turn their attention to passing a long-term highway bill as soon as possible.

There are no Republican bridges or Democratic highways – and there is agreement on both sides of the aisle that we must do something. Liberals and conservatives can, and have, come together on this issue, and we must meet them halfway by holding their colleagues' feet to the fire and demanding they act.

Pundits like to say that taxpayers and voters expect our elected leaders to lead, not hide from tough issues. Infrastructure isn't a tough issue – it is a no-brainer. A highway bill will create jobs, improve our economy and strengthen America's position as a global leader. We all need to demand that our representatives stop shirking their responsibility, step up, do their Constitutional duty and pass a comprehensive highway bill.

We at the ATA are watching these events very carefully, and we're going to be holding politicians who want to kick the can further down the road accountable for the added costs and congestion they are creating by not addressing our ongoing infrastructure crisis.

The author is the president and CEO of American Trucking Associations and the former two-term governor of Kansas.

American Trucking Associations is the largest national trade association for the trucking industry. Through a federation of 50 affiliated state trucking associations and industry-related conferences and councils, ATA is the voice of the industry America depends on most to move our nation's freight. Follow ATA on Twitter or on Facebook. Trucking Moves America Forward 

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SOURCE American Trucking Associations