“Rubber is About to Hit the Road”
Last week, Speaker Pelosi announced that the House would have an infrastructure framework ready during the last week of January. The infrastructure framework will outline top-level spending and begin the discussions on what the Surface Transportation Act will include as it is reauthorized before the end of FY2020. We anticipate a House Surface Transportation Bill to be introduced in February or March. FRA’s goal is to include the Safe Routes Act text in the Surface Transportation Bill, which is reauthorized every five years.
FRA continues to gather bipartisan support for the Safe Routes Act in the House. Currently, the Safe Routes legislation has 15 cosponsors (five Democrats and 10 Republicans). Additionally, there are five Republican supporters of the bill on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I): Representatives Gallagher, Bruce Westerman (R-AR-4), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-1), Ross Spano (R- FL-15), and David Rouzer (R-NC-7).
This week, FRA met with Democratic offices to explain the safety, efficiency, and environmental benefits of the Safe Routes Act. Our message during these meetings has always been based on the facts, supported by research. These facts, politics aside, make a compelling case for the House T&I Committee leadership to include the Safe Routes language in the highway bill of 2020.
The next step is to work closely with our champion on the bill, Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI-8), American Loggers Council (ALC) and key strategic allies to add additional Democrats as cosponsors of the legislation. In order for these efforts to be successful, we need strong bipartisan support to get the Safe Routes Act text included in the House highway bill.
Stay informed on the Safe Routes Act and other legislative initiatives FRA is working to advance during the 2nd session of the 116th Congress with our Friday Issue Updates. The rubber is about to hit the road! For additional background on FRA’s and ALC’s efforts to get the Safe Routes Act introduced in Congress, the necessity for its passage, and the ongoing research to support the legislation, please see below.
Safe Routes Act Background
In the early months of 2019, FRA worked with the ALC and drafted the Safe Routes Act to improve the safety of hauling raw forest products. The legislation would allow trucks transporting raw forest products, traveling a distance not greater than 150 miles from origin to a processing facility or storage yard, access to the safer U.S. Interstate System at state legal weight tolerances and vehicle configurations. The bill additionally provides for state-legal weight tolerance in effect on the enactment date of the legislation. This assures that states cannot arbitrarily raise their weight limits after the bill is passed into law.
FRA and ALC prepared the Safe Routes Act (HR 2453) with a great deal of caution. We met with policy leaders of the American Trucking Associations and Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference. These meetings assisted us in developing legislation and getting a bill introduced. FRA reviewed current interstate exemptions for forest products and federal legislation that provided trucks with interstate exemptions. The Safe Routes Act includes language similar to that of legislation that was included in the Surface Transportation Act of 2015 for sections of interstates in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Most importantly, we wanted to build our narrative on the legislation on facts. In doing so, we reviewed the most current peer-reviewed published research, learned from pilot projects in Maine and Vermont, and collaborated with the Georgia Forestry Foundation to fund ongoing research to show the safety benefits of the Safe Routes Act. The peer-reviewed research suggested that allowing log trucks to access interstates that are four to six times safer than secondary roads would be safer overall. Some of these findings showed that:
- A nationwide study of fatal log truck crashes in the U.S. stated that the most common pre-crash event occurred when another vehicle traveled into a truck’s lane from the opposite direction. Traveling on an interstate route would remove that pre-crash event.1
- A study of log trucks in Georgia showed that 50 percent of accidents occurred in urban areas. This same study also showed that 41 percent of the log truck accidents occurred within five miles of an interstate. Access to the interstate would avoid urban areas and reduce interactions with other vehicles and intersections.2
- The Maine Department of Transportation statistics showed that truck crashes decreased 25 percent and the number of fatalities decreased by 37 percent after the pilot went into effect that allowed trucks hauling at state legal weights and configurations. The Maine study additionally showed that less damaged occurred to secondary roads when trucks could travel at state weights on the better-built interstate system.3
Initial results from two pilot projects of the ongoing research supported by FRA and the Georgia Forestry Foundation show great promise in its findings that reinforce the safety, efficiency, and environmental benefits of the Safe Routes Act. They show that the interstate route is two to three times safer, reduces travel time by 26-43 percent, and has 12-16 percent less carbon dioxide emissions when the interstate route is traveled instead of the non-interstate route. FRA looks forward to the completion and findings of this research that will be available in the coming months.
In the spring of 2019, FRA approached Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI-8) and asked that he sponsor the legislation. Congressman Gallagher did not hesitate in stating he was interested in carrying the bill. He first wanted to clear the legislation with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Highway Department, and both agencies supported the merits of the Safe Routes legislation. On May 1, Congressman Gallagher introduced the Safe Routes Legislation in the House. Companion legislation was introduced by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) in the Senate on May 15.
Augusta, GA Case Study: Research supported by the Georgia Forestry Foundation and FRA shows the log truck safety, efficiency and environmental benefits of the Safe Routes Act. To comply with current regulations, the log truck would travel along U.S. Hwy 278 rather than utilizing I-20/520. Allowing state-legal, loaded log trucks to operate on I-20/520 would reduce fatal crash risk by 66%, travel time by 43%, travel costs by 51%, and pavement costs by 47% on this delivery. Research performed by Dr. Joe Conrad, University of Georgia, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.
1 Cole, N. B. (2019). An analysis of fatal log truck crashes in the United States from 2011 through 2015. International Journal of Forest Engineering.
2 Conrad, J. L. (2018). Analysis of timber transportation accident frequency, location, and contributing factors in Georgia, USA 2006-2016. International Journal of Forest Engineering.
3 MaineDOT. (2010). Interstate Highway Truck Weights – White Paper.