By Max Fisher, Director of Economics and Government Affairs
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee this week advanced legislation dubbed the “America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019,” which would authorize $287 billion from the Highway Trust Fund over five years to improve road safety, accelerate project delivery, improve resiliency to disasters and reduce highway emissions.
Congress most recently passed a highway bill in 2015 and its authorization expires on Sept. 30 next year.
The committee voted unanimously on July 30 to advance the bill. But before going to a full Senate vote, it will be referred to the Senate Finance Committee, which will be looking for funding mechanisms. The federal gas tax, which is 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel, has not kept pace with Highway Trust Fund expenditures, forcing Congress to redirect other federal revenues toward the highway bill.
The bill would authorize a competitive grant program funded at $1 billion over five years for states and localities to build hydrogen, natural gas and electric vehicle fueling infrastructure along designated highway corridors – but it does not include biofuels. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said she considered the exclusion a snub to the industry, noting: “I don’t have any issue with these fuels or technologies, but what I do have an issue with is the fact that this section neglects to include the biofuels.”
Concerning truck weight limits on Interstate highways, the bill would maintain the current 80,000-pound limit. Unfortunately, it does not contain an NGFA-advocated axle weight tolerance; but Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has filed an amendment containing the axle-tolerance language. The axle tolerance would allow a 10 percent tolerance for each 34,000-pound axle group, but maintain the overall 80,000-pound-weight limit. The provision is important, since shifting of dry bulk commodities can occur in transit as a result of trucks stopping and accelerating, thereby resulting in violations of axle-group weight laws for drivers.