Cover Story
The big squeeze
‘Failure not an option’ on highway bill

By David Tanner, associate editor

A conference committee of 33 U.S. representatives and 16 senators will decide the fate of a multiyear transportation bill. During its initial meeting on May 8, committee members expressed optimism for getting a bill done, despite this being an election year, political divisions on oil and gas drilling and other issues.

Congress is also up against a June 30 expiration date for current transportation programs that have been on borrowed time for nearly three years.

"Failure is not an option for us," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, who was nominated to chair the conference committee. Boxer chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over highways in the Senate.

Members nominated U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-FL, who leads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as the vice chairman of the conference committee.

Senators offered provisions from their two-year, $109 billion bill, while members of the House brought forward bits and pieces of legislation that had made up portions of a five-year, $230 billion bill. At the table, those provisions were not apples to apples, something the committee will have to work out.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK, often referred to as the most-conservative lawmaker on Capitol Hill, said "the conservative thing to do is pass this thing."

On the table are things like transportation funding, federal highway programs, transit and motor carrier safety. Within motor carrier safety are topics specific to truckers such as driver training, parking, a study of cab crashworthiness, broker reform and a study of the impact of regulations on small business.

As of press time, an industry-wide mandate for electronic on-board recorders, or EOBRs, was still part of the bill. OOIDA and its members have been calling lawmakers to have the mandated EOBR language removed.

If the House and Senate do not agree on final language of a longer-term bill by June 30, lawmakers will be forced to deal with extending the status quo or facing at least a partial shutdown of transportation programs. LL