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The lone voice in a crowded room
OOIDA Senior Member Terry Button may be the only small-business trucker serving on the National Freight Advisory Committee, but his voice is being heard.

By David Tanner, associate editor

OOIDA Senior Member Terry Button has got your back.

The owner-operator from Rushville, N.Y., is the lone small-business trucker appointed to serve on the National Freight Advisory Committee.

At the meetings in Washington, D.C., he finds himself surrounded by people who serve ports, railroads, state DOTs, shippers and industry, but that does not intimidate him. Button reports that the discussions are going well and that he is getting his voice heard.

Button says he gets along very well with most of the 46 other members of the committee appointed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, each of them professionals from the different modes. But there have been a few times he’s had to speak up to defend truckers.

“I learn things from them and they learn things from me,” Button told Land Line.

“Being involved in trucking and that part of highway transportation, and agriculture, I didn’t realize in their own modes how the airports, the seaports and rail all have the same types of issues that myself and the other drivers on the highway face, whether they be environmental, safety, innovation, technology – just different things we try to adjust to,” Button said.

The committee advises the U.S. secretary of transportation on the development of a national freight strategic plan and national freight network. The U.S. currently does not have a strategic plan for freight movement, but the current highway law MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, mandates its development.
Within the National Freight Advisory Committee framework, Button co-chairs a subcommittee on research, innovation and technology. He says the subcommittee members speak by phone every couple of weeks. The committee as a whole first met June 25, 2013, and met again in November. The members are tasked with finalizing their recommendations within two years.

Button says he’s pleased to see highways, bridges and trucking placed in high regard among the vast majority of committee members.

“Everybody’s committed to make sure our infrastructure is maintained and expanded. We’re working on how to fund it and present it and maintain it and move it forward, but everybody knows we need to have good highways and good bridges,” Button said.

“The safety agenda that OOIDA is promoting and sponsoring – the educating and training of drivers – is so important on the highways in all those modes of transportation, and those people realize it,” he adds.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne Ferro have addressed the committee.

“They want new ideas. They want things that can make sense, and they want things that we can recommend and do sooner than what this plan calls for,” Button said.

Just the facts
Committee discussions are not without conflicts, Button says.

He says he had to call out a faction of committee members who claimed that a proposal in Congress to increase the minimum liability insurance limits on trucking from the current $750,000 to $4.42 million was an issue affecting highway safety.

“They told everybody in there that that needed to be done for the sake of safety, and that’s like a slap in the face to safe driving and the concern that I have for the public,” Button said.

Aside from that interaction, the committee as a whole is committed to improving freight movement and seeing that infrastructure gets funded. Committee members have access to DOT staff who help them with research and current policy matters. Button says they’re of tremendous help.

“Their DOT staff truly cares,” he said. “There’s always going to be a few that aren’t on the same page, but they truly care. They just don’t quite understand things always. That’s why I’m there, along with the other members of this committee – to help them with the facts and reality of what goes on every day.” LL