By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa
Published in the Huffington Post, November 6, 2015
Congress is on the cusp of doing something it hasn’t done in more than a decade — approving a long-term highway bill.
A bipartisan collection of lawmakers in both the House and Senate should be lauded for the difficult work they have accomplished thus far in attempting to enact a six-year funding measure. This includes rejecting an amendment that would have allowed heavier trucks on the nation’s thoroughfares.
Increasing truck weight limits by up to 11,000 pounds would have placed a significant burden on the nation’s decrepit infrastructure at a time when it is already struggling to meet the needs of millions of truckers and motorists. It would have also jeopardized safety.
But there is still more that needs to be done as leaders in both chambers attempt to work out the differences between House and Senate versions of the bill by the Nov. 20 deadline for renewing federal infrastructure funding. This includes stopping teen truckers from transporting commerce across state lines as well as eliminating meal and rest break rules that ensure truckers are at their best when behind the wheel.
There is no reason to have inexperienced drivers making such long hauls. Drivers with less time behind the wheel get into more accidents. And there is definitely no excuse for those on Capitol Hill to try and overturn the rules of 22 states and Puerto Rico that grant breaks to truck drivers.
The Teamsters remain extremely concerned with their inclusion of overly-broad and dangerous language which would preempt state meal and rest break laws that protect the working conditions of commercial drivers. If elected officials care about highway safety, they will strip such provisions from any final bill.
Since 2008, Congress has used more than $62 billion in taxpayer dollars to keep the Highway Trust Fund afloat. But those constant short-term fixes haven’t allowed proper infrastructure planning to take place. Those who travel the highways are paying the price not only in higher maintenance on their vehicles, but potentially with their lives.
That’s why vision is needed to spur infrastructure investment. The Teamsters unveiled our own plan back in September that views maintaining, rebuilding and repairing roads and transit as paramount to the nation’s future.
Our “Let’s Get America Working” platform calls on America to invest in itself and its citizenry. By building roads and repairing rails, for instance, this nation can improve the fortunes of both working people and big business. And as the Senate vote in July and the House vote yesterday proves, infrastructure presents an opportunity to break political gridlock.
Transportation investment is an ideal way to boost the nation’s economy. Infrastructure jobs, unlike those in other sectors, can’t be outsourced. They improve living standards for all Americans, including the men and women who help to repair and maintain road, bridges and mass transit systems, along with those who earn a living transporting goods and the vast majority of Americans who use our transportation networks every day.
There are 61,000 structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. today and 28 percent of urban roads are in substandard condition. Quite simply, the nation’s transportation infrastructure is in crisis. Congress has the ability to change it. But it must put forward a bill that takes both funding and safety seriously.
Lawmakers are very close to accomplishing something worthwhile here. But as part of the process, elected officials must protect motorists as well.