Cost & Effect
Funding the next highway bill and making sure it addresses key issues
Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-Tenn.) is the ranking member on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Highways and Transit Subcommittee, which oversees the construction of roads and transit facilities and the development of national surface transportation policy. Rep. Duncan also holds seats on the House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He has represented the state of Tennessee in Congress since 1988.
Duncan is among the top leaders on Capitol Hill working on legislation that will determine the future of highway funding, transportation projects and interstate commerce. He sat down with Road King at the Knoxville, Tenn. TA to review his top priorities.
Q The deadline to enact a new national transportation reauthorization is approaching quickly. What are your top priorities as you draft new legislation?
A While almost no one thinks we will be able to complete a bill by Oct. 1, I want to see a bill completed as soon as possible and certainly without the two-year delay of the last highway bill. I also want to streamline and speed up the process so that highway projects are completed much sooner and at much less cost. Ensuring there is adequate funding is also a top priority for me.
Q How will you balance the needs of the various modes of transportation while ensuring professional drivers can meet the needs of their customers effectively and efficiently?
A Our entire economy depends on an efficient and effective trucking industry. Poor and lower-income people would be hurt the most if we pass a highway bill that greatly increases costs for truckers because prices would go up for everything.
Q The highway trust fund, which pays for transportation projects and is funded through fuel taxes, is nearly broke. Many groups have proposed the use of public-private partnerships, or PPPs, whereby states sell roads to private firms that charge tolls to truckers and other motorists to use the national assets that they already pay for. Will PPPs and tolling have a role in the next highway bill?
A The highway trust fund will take in $35 to $40 billion a year during the term of the next highway bill if we do not increase the gas tax. This is not nearly enough to do all that needs to be done. We need to explore all ways to finance the bill, including new and innovative means. However, we need to be very careful in allowing the sale of roads to make sure some officials do not jump at big money on the front end, causing major problems in later years. I do not like tolls unless they are voted on by the local people.
Q What are you doing to consider and protect the interests of professional truckers from increases in their costs of doing business, specifically tolls and taxes?
A I have always opposed tax increases and have supported every effort to reduce taxes. I would not favor tolls unless there was no other reasonable alternative to support an absolutely necessary project. The main thing we need to do to help truckers (and everyone) is to not give in to extremists who would raise fuel prices to $5 or $6 a gallon and really shut down our economy.
Q You have said that too many transportation projects are mired in red tape, paperwork and bureaucratic process delays that keep them from moving forward quickly. How can Congress shorten the approval process?
A The main thing that causes transportation projects to take so long and cost so much is that we have gone ridiculously overboard on environmental rules and regulations. All this really does is hurt lower-income people by destroying jobs and driving up prices on everything. We need to require all agencies to look at these projects on the front end and give them strict and short deadlines. We also need to put short time limits on all the kooky lawsuits. o
The views expressed in Trucking Matters are those of the interview subject and do not necessarily reflect the views of Road King, its editors or affiliates of Road King. If you have questions for future Trucking Matters columns, please send them to email@example.com.