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The Times They Are a Changin’ Trucking faces challenges, should seize opportunities, ATA president says

BY J.K. JONES ContributingWriter

Trucking faces a new wave of change,

and those in the industry can either be swept away or ride it successfully into the future, the industry’s top advocate says. Speaking at a recent carrier-sponsored

gathering of shipping executives, government officials and others, American Trucking Associations president and CEO Bill Graves suggested that the post-deregulation model for trucking has been just about “used up,” and the transformation to the next model will bring challenges as well as “wonderful opportunities.” The key to success, he said, will be in anticipating and adapting to the times. Graves, the former governor of Kansas

and son of a trucking company owner, noted that when he took over leadership of the national association, he met a lot of people “who were absolute professionals at the word ‘no.’”

“We are an industry that’s been

characterized by knowing very clearly the things that we don‘t like and that we don’t want to do,” Graves said. “But what are the things we need to do? How do we get ourselves in a position to say ‘yes’ to things that are coming?” In his wide-ranging presentation, Graves

highlighted those political, regulatory and technological forces that will shape the next generation of the trucking industry—with an emphasis on the political.

THEHIGHWAY BILL Most critical to trucking, and long at

the top of ATA’s to-do list, is improving and paying for the nation’s highway system. But Graves said Congress currently lacks the political will to raise fuel taxes. Graves explained “the highway trust fund is broken” and stopgap appropriations from the general fund “will get old fast,” meaning highway programs could be shut down as soon as a year from now. The previous highway bill was extended



12 times before the current package, SAFETEA-LU, was enacted in 2005. That program expired Sept. 30 last year, and has been extended five times since. “That’s not good for any of us,” Graves

said mentioning the uncertainty created for project planners and construction contractors. And despite the cost of state and federal

fuel taxes to the industry, “we don’t know of any other way to invest in infrastructure,” Graves said. “We don’t know another mechanism that’s really available to us at this moment on a nationwide scale.” Graves recounted a recent meeting with

House Transportation Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), in the which the congressman said the only way to pay for a comprehensive transportation package which Oberstar and his committee put together a year ago and estimated to cost $500 billion, is “to basically go out and borrow the money.”

6 “I don’t think he’s even sure he can sell

that, with all the other things the federal government has needed to fund, and with the amount of focus on indebtedness that’s in the news these days,” Graves said. As a result, Graves doesn’t see a long-term federal highway package being passed “anytime soon.” Interim extensions are all the more

“unfortunate,” Graves explained, because the country needs a massive investment in infrastructure, not patchwork fixes, to significantly increase capacity and relieve congestion. “Not only do we not get the infrastructure

investment, but there are number of other things that get tied up in that,” he said, referring to the short-term highway program continuations. Graves noted items like a nationwide

driver drug and alcohol test clearinghouse that could be delayed until reauthorization, but in the mean time drivers are able to cover up past positive drug tests by moving to a new state and a new company. Similarly, Graves explained that policy

makers are now more willing “to have an adult conversation” about expanding the use of longer, combination vehicles and higher weight limits on the federal highway system—also an item to be included in the next highway package. Graves cited the “checklist of things”

supporting the push for more productive vehicles: fuel efficiency, helping to reduce fuel consumption and reducing the nation’s reliance of foreign oil, along with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “There’s great value to our nation in finding a way to embrace more productive vehicles.” Opponents are wrong when they

envision “long, heavy trucks everywhere, and we’re just going to run amok,” he added. “That is not the intention. The intention is

to ask a pragmatic question: are there certain lanes, are there certain commodities, are there certain places in this country where,


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