The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee marked-up its draft Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act (STRRA) of 2015 (aka Highway Bill) late last week. The bill is a multi-year reauthorization of highway transportation programs, which would provide certainty for state and local governments to maintain and move forward with transportation projects. It also provides new flexibilities and streamlines environmental review and permitting processes aimed at accelerating projects.
The bill also establishes a National Highway Freight Policy, Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program, and National Multi-modal Freight Network, which are aimed at improving freight movement and strengthening U.S. economic competitiveness. It includes an extension of the deadline for implementing Positive Train Control (PTC), which the American Soybean Association (ASA) strongly supports.
While there are numerous positive aspects of the Committee passed bill, there are several issues important to ASA that are not yet addressed in the bill. Most significantly, the bill does not address the ability for states to allow increased truck weights on federal interstates within their state for trucks with an additional (sixth) axle. Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) has indicated his intent to offer an amendment, when the bill reaches the House floor, to include the increased truck weight provisions. The bill could be considered on the House floor the week of Oct. 26 or the week of Nov. 2.
Some other issues impacting farmers that the agricultural community is seeking to address in the STRRA include:
- Exemption to a hazardous materials endorsement for custom harvesters and other operators of similar equipment to enable them to transport the amount of fuel necessary for a single day of field operations with today’s agricultural equipment. Currently Class A CDL holders cannot haul more than 118 gallons of diesel fuel without a hazardous materials endorsement.
- Clarify that states may adopt standards on “covered farm vehicles” that are more reasonable to farmers and farm employees operating farm trucks near the farm, without jeopardizing federal transportation funding in those states.
- Hours-of-Service Rule for Livestock and Poultry: removing the 30-minute break after eight hours of service requirement. Permanently removing this rule will avoid unnecessary discomfort for livestock and poultry.