Highway Bill Still in Conference: Truck Weight Study?

A House-Senate conference committee convened in early May to negotiate Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill and—to judge from statements from Senate Environment & Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer—is making progress toward consensus, with fears receding that yet another continuing resolution may be necessary. The expectation remains for a short-term bill—between one and two years—funded by some means other than tax increases. If conferees want to avoid outrunning the continuing resolution which currently extends surface transportation project funding, they will need to move a consensus bill to the floor and onto the President’s desk by June 30.

FRA’s immediate interest in Surface Transportation Reauthorization—now that expedient action on truck weight reform is off the table—is to ensure that any provision calling for a study of the impacts of truck weight reform does not outrun the term of whatever Reauthorization bill both chambers agree to, since we expect to raise the need for truck weight reform early in the next Reauthorization. The House bill does not call for a study, since the “Barletta amendment,” included in the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee markup, did not make it into the bill the House eventually passed. The Senate bill, however, contains a provision calling for a lengthy, complex, and very expensive study. Our side is advocating to conferees, including House leadership, that the terms of the Senate study are unnecessary and expensive and serve no purpose except to obstruct timely consideration of truck weight reform, in view of the massive volume of research that already documents reform’s impacts, and that a much shorter study—consisting of a literature review—would fulfill and exceed any requirement for due diligence.

House Republican conferees are largely sympathetic to this position; however, we have become aware that rail interests are strongly advocating retaining the terms of the Senate study, in all of its massive, lengthy, and expensive complexity. Although our side has some motivated and astute advocates among the conferees, it is not clear how important resolving this particular issue will be, in the context of a bill with many other provisions—approval of the Keystone pipeline project being among the most prominent—on which even sympathetic members may prefer to spend their political capital.