Following the Department of Transportation’s release of its proposed source materials and methodology for undertaking the Truck Size and Weight Study called for in the most recent Highway Bill, FRA President Deb Hawkinson entered a two-page Comment into DOT’s record. Congress commissioned the Study in order to inform the next Highway Bill process. Congress must pass a new Highway Bill, or authorize an extension, by September 30, 2014, when the current authorization expires.
FRA’s Comment praises the thoroughness of the Study plan, notes specific forestry-related points relevant to the question of truck weight reform, and urges the Study team to clarify certain assumptions or data interpretations concerning:
- bridge-formula compliance,
- possible diversion of freight from other modes,
- pavement-wear measurement,
- the use of “models” rather than available empirical data, and
- bridge-and-pavement wear cost calculation.
Negotiations over the forthcoming Surface Transportation Reauthorization (or “Highway Bill”) formally began on January 14, with a hearing before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. It is clear that the question of funding for infrastructure repair and improvement will be one of the largest and most contentious items facing Congress, with witnesses representing state and local interests pleading for increased and consistent federal funding and Committee members, on the whole, seeming to agree. Whereas T&I Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) stated that he would not back higher fuel taxes at a February 4 session, he did seem to leave the door open for a vehicle-miles-traveled tax and otherwise indicated flexibility.
Various projections show the existing Highway Trust Fund, which supports federal road maintenance spending, running out of funds during August or September, before current funding authorizations expire on October 1.