The American Soybean Association (ASA) has sent letters to key members of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee (EPW) and the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee to reiterate its top transportation and infrastructure priorities and urge their inclusion in the Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill.
The Senate EPW Committee has indicated it could mark-up the bill Nov. 9. The House T&I Committee has not announced a date for mark-up.
ASA’s priorities for the bill are an extension of the hours-of-service exemption for agricultural truck drivers, an increase in the truck weight limits when an additional sixth axle is used, and provisions to ensure that all funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that were intended for dredging activities are used for those purposes.
Agricultural truck drivers are currently granted an exemption from the hours of service rules if operating within a 100-mile radius of their farm or distribution point.
Planting and harvesting without this exemption would require a substantially larger fleet of trucks and drivers and result in higher costs to farmers and/or missed production opportunities.
ASA is urging that the important hours of service exemption be maintained for agriculture in the next Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill.
ASA also supports the provision to allow an increase in truck weight limits as proposed in S. 747 and H.R. 763, the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA).
The SETA provisions are targeted to give states the option to selectively raise interstate weight limits for trucks equipped with six axles, instead of the typical five. The goal of SETA is to make U.S. truck transportation safer and more efficient.
The U.S. federal weight limit has been set at 80,000 pounds since 1982. Many truck shipments meet this limit with significant space left in the trailer — forcing shippers to use more trucks and fuel than necessary.
ASA supports the Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) Act (H.R. 104) and the Harbor Maintenance Act of 2011 (S. 412), and is urging that these provisions be included in a water title of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill.
The goal of these bills is to ensure the monies collected via the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) are fully utilized for their intended purposes.
The HMT is collected as an ad valorem tax of .125 percent on imported cargo arriving into the United States. Over the last decade or so only about half the funds collected have actually been appropriated for their intended purposes, including maintenance dredging of deep waterways.
The HMT generates about $1.5 billion annually while Congress has appropriated an average of about $735 million, with the unused funds added to the general treasury and used for other non-maritime projects.
If the HMTF was fully applied to the approved projects as originally intended, there would not be an annual shortfall of funding to dredge our nation’s waterways.