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Top of Mind
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is one of the key leaders who will shape the future of the nation’s highway spending and work to prioritize the country’s transportation needs. He shared his insights on the future of transportation with Road King.
Q: Congress is preparing for the next highway funding bill, which authorizes programs for highways, highway safety and transit. What will be your top priorities as you draft new legislation? How are you looking out for the American trucker?
A: We are working on a transformational authorization that will revamp our surface transportations programs. We held 25 hearings in the 110th Congress to prepare to write this bill, and I am determined it will help us develop a transportation system that will make our roads safer, reduce congestion and emissions, and give people real options to get them out of their cars. We have the chance to significantly address freight movement and make it easier and more efficient to get goods to market. American truckers shouldn’t have to sit in traffic for hours on end. They need to feel confident they can deliver their goods safely and efficiently.
Q: You have spoken out against selling America’s highways to private investors and tolling, but will these matters play a role in the next highway funding bill? What effect will tolling and privatization have on the American trucker?
A: I believe that in certain areas, and with the right precautions to protect the public interest, public-private partnerships (PPPs) can address some of our infrastructure investment needs. However, PPPs are only a small part of the solution. A continued strong federal role is critical. When private financing is involved, PPPs can supplement, but not provide a substitute for, public investments in transportation improvements. Our surface transportation authorization bill will include guidelines states must meet to protect the public interest if they want to utilize a PPP on a project that involves federal funding. PPP toll facilities should be regulated to provide private operators with a reasonable return on their investments while protecting the public, particularly truckers, from unreasonably high tolls or excessive profits.
Q: What needs to be done to ensure the viability and safety of the national highway system?
A: The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave our infrastructure a failing grade of “D.” It estimates we need to invest $2.2 trillion over five years in repairs and improvements. Without substantial commitment on the federal level, our transportation infrastructure will continue to fragment and deteriorate to a third world status. Without the needed investment, we will experience more tragedies such as the Minnesota bridge collapse, traffic congestion will grow, and transportation bottlenecks will cripple our economy.
In an environment where just-in-time delivery is paramount, businesses are at a disadvantage when they can’t predict how long it will take delivery trucks to reach their destinations. Federal investment in our transportation infrastructure, with a coordinated, national vision, is one of the best ways to promote the long-term health and competitiveness of America.
Q: You have opposed the pilot program in which Mexican trucks would operate within the U.S., and Congress has voted to halt the project. What does this mean for America’s truckers?
A: The pilot program posed a serious threat to the traveling American public. Mexican truck drivers are notoriously abused and are often forced to drive up to 72 hours without sleep in order to make deliveries. The pilot program did not ensure that Mexican trucking companies met U.S. safety standards such as regulating hours-of-service, vehicle safety, driver training and licensing or drug testing. But, this is not just a safety issue. It is also about protecting U.S. trucking jobs. A full opening of our borders to Mexican trucks would mean another exportation of American jobs at a time when many families are already struggling to make ends meet in a poor economy.
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Rep. Peter DeFazio has been representing the state of Oregon in Congress since 1986. He is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee where he serves as the Chair of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. He also serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security, sitting on the Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection.