Biden proposes transportation budget increase

From Transport Topics.

President Joe Biden has previewed a $1.5 trillion fiscal 2022 budget plan that would increase discretionary spending for transportation systems and severe weather resilience programs.

Under the president’s budget blueprint, unveiled April 9, the U.S. Department of Transportation would receive a 14% increase in discretionary funding, as well as an updated strategy for addressing concerns linked to climate change.

The budget request proposes to “build back better America’s highway, transit and rail systems nationwide; make historic investment in safety, equity, and climate change mitigation; and foster neighborhood-oriented investments that transform America’s infrastructure, reconnect communities, and provide opportunities to all Americans,” according to the White House document sent to Congress. Specifically, the blueprint calls for providing $25.6 billion for the department, which would be about $300 million above the fiscal 2021 enacted level.

Additionally, the budget proposes $625 million for a passenger rail competitive grant program, as well as $375 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement, or CRISI, grants. It would provide $2.5 billion for a transit grants program. And it includes $250 million in grants for transit agencies to purchase low- and zero-emission buses.

The request would provide the U.S. General Services Administration $300 million to buy electric vehicles and set up charging stations.

Additionally, the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD, grants program would receive $1 billion. This infrastructure grants program has been used by states and localities to advance big-ticket projects.

See the complete article at Transport Topics.

 

MG+M Alert: Critical role of litigators in commercial vehicle accident investigations

In the last several months, MG+M’s Transportation Practice Group has been retained to protect the interests of trucking companies whose drivers were involved in significant New England highway accidents. The recent actions of MG+M’s Emergency Response teams that were deployed to accident scenes have solidified the immense utility to trucking carriers of placing litigators at a truck’s location within minutes of collision. It is almost a truism that a lawsuit will follow any trucking accident that causes personal injury or property damage. Moreover, in the commercial vehicle context, government agencies (most regularly, through a police force’s commercial enforcement unit or “truck squad”) are required to investigate the crash, the truck’s driver, and trucking company policies. Official investigative reports will issue. Those reports play an acute role in determining whether a potential lawsuit will resolve early or if litigation will be hampered by protracted discovery.

In short, when it comes to commercial trucking litigation, “the devil is in the details,” and the earlier litigation counsel becomes involved, the easier it is for a defendant trucking company to meaningfully contribute to an accident’s investigation by providing and preserving critical evidence. Additionally, the presence of counsel at accident scenes benefits clients by having on-the-ground resources for witness identification and management, ensuring that investigators’ questions are free from ambiguity and contained to the scope of the accident, and that company employees understand their rights at the initial investigation stage.

A recent example illustrates the importance of involving litigation counsel as close to the timing of the incident as possible.

The full article is posted below, and a PDF version is available.

MG+M Litigation Alert: The Critical Role of Litigators in Commercial Vehicle Accident Investigations

In the last several months, MG+M’s Transportation Practice Group has been retained to protect the interests of trucking companies whose drivers were involved in significant New England highway accidents. The recent actions of MG+M’s Emergency Response teams that were deployed to accident scenes have solidified the immense utility to trucking carriers of placing litigators at a truck’s location within minutes of collision. It is almost a truism that a lawsuit will follow any trucking accident that causes personal injury or property damage. Moreover, in the commercial vehicle context, government agencies (most regularly, through a police force’s commercial enforcement unit or “truck squad”) are required to investigate the crash, the truck’s driver, and trucking company policies. Official investigative reports will issue. Those reports play an acute role in determining whether a potential lawsuit will resolve early or if litigation will be hampered by protracted discovery.

In short, when it comes to commercial trucking litigation, “the devil is in the details,” and the earlier litigation counsel becomes involved, the easier it is for a defendant trucking company to meaningfully contribute to an accident’s investigation by providing and preserving critical evidence. Additionally, the presence of counsel at accident scenes benefits clients by having on-the-ground resources for witness identification and management, ensuring that investigators’ questions are free from ambiguity and contained to the scope of the accident, and that company employees understand their rights at the initial investigation stage.

A recent example illustrates the importance of involving litigation counsel as close to the timing of the incident as possible. MG+M defense counsel arrived on scene of a tractor-trailer highway rollover within two hours after the incident. Police investigators did not begin their survey of the accident scene until after EMS extracted victims (including the tractor-trailer operator), transported them to trauma facilities, and the fire department ensured that the wreckage was safe for investigators and did not pose any environmental risks. The necessary tasks taken by first responders to save life resulted in a very different accident scene from that moment in time immediately following rollover and collision. Here, the first responders used “the jaws of life” to extract the tractor-trailer operator from his cab. This activity displaced critical evidence. Specifically, the truck was equipped with camera systems that were mounted near the top and center of the windshield (facing both driver and roadway) to capture audio and video upon a triggering event such as a hard braking, hard acceleration, cornering, or collision. Police investigators conducted their preliminary assessment of the accident unware of this equipment. It was not until officers surveyed the scene with counsel did this essential evidence become known because the MG+M attorney, cooperating with law enforcement on behalf of the trucking company, asked them where it was located.

In the end, this one observation by defense counsel completely changed the course of an investigation and likely litigation. The trucking company realized the benefit of its attorney knowing its business, its equipment, and the process by which officials investigate commercial vehicle mishaps. If counsel did not advise the investigating officer that the truck was equipped with cameras, then the truck would have been released from the accident scene with “real time” video evidence lost. It was later determined that the cameras were inadvertently separated from their mounts by EMS in the process of removing the driver. Authorities later found the cameras in a pile of debris made by firefighters. Without this video evidence, the police accident report—which serves as the foundational basis for any case for civil or criminal liability—would have been very different.

Absent this video evidence, at best, the report would be inconclusive as to the cause of the accident. At worst, blame for the rollover would lie with the truck driver, and by extension, the trucking company. The complete picture, however, might show a motorcycle cutting across multiple lanes of traffic to make an exit and a truck driver doing his best to avoid collision. Tragedy may not always be avoided, but in the context of potential liability associated with the truck, early identification of evidence and prompt participation in accident investigations certainly can curtail the length, expense, and severity of anticipated litigation.

See the complete article here: MG+M Litigation Alert.

DeFazio touts benefits of infrastructure plan

From Transport Topics.

President Joe Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure proposal would address environmental concerns and enhance the business landscape nationwide, said the top transportation policymaker in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Further, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters April 6, the president expects Congress to advance an infrastructure measure. “He won’t tolerate inaction on rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, something that has long been outdated,” Psaki said.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the transportation panel, is among the congressional Democrats touting the president’s comprehensive plan. He is expected to kick off debate on surface transportation policy in the coming weeks.

“We can rebuild it, give ourselves a 21st-century system resilient to climate change and severe weather events, sea level rise, and we can also deal with fossil fuel pollution; and help people with their daily lives in terms of their commutes and help American business be more competitive in the world,” DeFazio told MSNBC on April 4.

“This is not just once-in-a-generation. It [has] been, you know, more than a generation since we’ve tackled this problem,” he continued.

Members of Congress return to Washington from their Easter recess April 12. House Democrats say they intend to legislate on the infrastructure proposal next month. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) singled out DeFazio to help lead the effort. As she put it, referring to the transportation chairman: “Our hopes are riding on you.”

See the complete article online at Transport Topics.

Trucking jobs account for 20% of Biden’s infrastructure plan

From Freight Waves.

Commercial truck driver jobs are forecast to make some of the biggest gains if the Biden administration’s infrastructure package can get through Congress without major revisions, according to a report analyzing the plan.

The report, by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), was published just as President Joe Biden was releasing his American Jobs Plan last week. It is based on infrastructure-related policy data and information that the administration has made public over the past year, including the infrastructure plan Biden rolled out during the presidential campaign.

“Nothing in the package announced by the president last week changes our calculations in terms of jobs created or saved,” a Georgetown CEW spokesperson told FreightWaves.

If Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure program is enacted, it “could put the United States back on a pre-recession job growth path and create and/or save 15 million jobs,” according to the report. It estimated that infrastructure jobs averaged 12% of all jobs in the U.S. economy prior to the pandemic. Mid pandemic, the number of infrastructure jobs in 2020 averaged 11% of all jobs, “reflective of the general malaise in employment across the labor force.” The report estimates that under Biden’s plan, infrastructure-related jobs would increase temporarily to 14% of the total job market.

“Transportation and materials moving” make up 60% of the infrastructure related occupations either created or saved by Biden’s plan, according to the report (see table below). Within that category, jobs for commercial drivers of heavy trucks and light truck/delivery drivers would account for 1.9 million and 901,300 jobs, respectively — roughly 2.81 million jobs total — which is close to 20% of the 15 million jobs estimated in the report.

The report also forecasts that the infrastructure jobs created or saved would be spread across the country. “In general, the job opportunities favor relatively more populated coastal states, but all stand to benefit from the infrastructure investment, including states that have not had as much economic growth as other states.”

See the complete article online at Freight Waves.

ATRI calls for carriers to participate in insurance costs data collection

From ATRI.

Arlington, Virginia – The American Transportation Research Institute today launched a new data collection initiative to better understand the rising costs of trucking insurance and how those costs are ultimately impacting the industry’s overall operational costs. This research was identified by ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee as a top research priority in 2020.

Motor carriers are asked to provide data through an online data collection form that will quantify changes in deductibles, excess insurance over minimum requirements, and how drivers and fleets are balancing insurance costs against rising risk levels. The research will be complementary to ATRI’s annual Operational Costs of Trucking, but will provide more granular detail on one of the most volatile cost centers in the annual analysis.

“ATRI’s industry data collection initiatives are critical to understanding industry operations based on real-world data, and this latest effort to benchmark insurance cost trends will provide important insight into a carrier’s management of total cost of risk,” said Randy Guillot, Triple G Express President.

See the complete article online.

Infrastructure plan could include $3 Trillion in tax increases

From Transport Topics.

President Joe Biden is aiming for summer passage of an infrastructure plan that is expected to cost more than $3 trillion, and the White House hopes to take a more deliberate and collaborative approach with the contentious Congress than it did on the COVID-19 rescue package, officials said.

The president will announce parts of his “Build Back Better” package March 31 in Pittsburgh. Sweeping in scope, the ambitious plan aims to make generational investments in infrastructure, revive domestic manufacturing, combat climate change and keep the United States competitive with China, according to the officials. It could include $3 trillion in tax increases.

The final price tag is in flux but was expected to be between $3 trillion and $4 trillion. One White House official said March 29 that it may end up being closer to $3 trillion.

Though the White House is emphasizing the urgency, it also insists this will not be considered an emergency response like the $1.9 trillion virus relief bill that Biden signed into law over Republican objections earlier this month. The administration wants to see progress on the new legislation by Memorial Day and have it passed over the summer, White House officials said.

“The president has a plan to fix our infrastructure and a plan to pay for it,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said March 29. “But we certainly expect to have the discussion with members of Congress, as we move forward, about areas where they agree, where they disagree, where they would like to see greater emphasis or not.”

See the complete article online.

Opposed by GOP, Lamont campaigns for climate initiative

From CT Mirror.

Gov. Ned Lamont was warmly greeted by Mayor Erin Stewart, the Republican who recently announced she would not challenge Lamont for governor in 2021. On Tuesday, they had common cause — if only to a point.

Stewart agreed to appear outside a gleaming new apartment building constructed on a city lot that she says was unmarketable until the construction across the street of CTfastrak, the busway much maligned in GOP circles.

The Republican mayor and Democratic governor each are boosters of transit-oriented development, a popular and politically safe approach to creating cities that are less reliant on gasoline-powered vehicles, the largest single source of greenhouse gases in Connecticut.

But Lamont has gone a giant step further by signing onto a regional Transportation and Climate Initiative as a way to reduce greenhouse gases and raise money for transit — a concept bitterly opposed by many leaders of Stewart’s GOP.

In promoting TCI, as the initiative is known, the Lamont administration is working to succeed where it failed horribly two years ago in seeking support for highway tolls as a means to modernize Connecticut’s creaky infrastructure.

And that brought him and Stewart to Columbus Commons, a new 80-unit apartment complex constructed on the site of the old police station, the first phase of a mixed-use development on Columbus Boulevard, across from the terminal of CTfastrak.

“It is the first ground up development that we saw in this city in decades — brand new, brand new housing, all because of the access to mass transit because of CTfastrak,” Stewart said.

Lamont, who announced his administration planned to use $3 million in pandemic relief to offer free weekend passage on CTfastrak and other transit buses over the summer, said he was trying to make transit-oriented development less abstract — and something worth funding.

See the complete article online.

Trucking interests skeptical of zone-based congestion pricing

From Freight Waves.

Zone-based congestion pricing for vehicles entering downtown business districts has long been considered a way to reduce delays and stress for commuters. But the potential for cutting fuel consumption and vehicle emissions now dovetails with the Biden administration’s climate policy goals — at a time when states are looking for ways to refill infrastructure budget coffers decimated by the pandemic.

If the new administration decides to put its weight behind the concept, how will truckers fare?

How it works

Congestion pricing “is a way of harnessing the power of the market to reduce the waste associated with traffic congestion,” according to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It usually involves a tolling system that uses pricing to disincentivize travel during peak periods. The idea is to shift some rush-hour highway travel to other transportation modes, such as transit rail or bus, or to off-peak periods.

The country’s most populous metropolitan regions are also home to the largest congestion costs per mile for truckers (see table below). FHWA contends that by removing as little as 5% of the vehicles from a congested roadway, “pricing enables the system to flow much more efficiently, allowing more [vehicles] to move through the same physical space.”

Congestion pricing is currently used on bridges, in tunnels and on stretches of interstate, such as in San Diego, Seattle and the Washington, D.C., region. But New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles are looking to take congestion pricing to another level by applying the fees to a cordoned central business district.

See the complete article online.

ConnDOT announces changes to OS/OW permitting

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) has announced some changes for Oversize/Overweight vehicle permitting which went into effect last night (Thursday, March 25). The changes are as follows:

Change to Annual Divisible Permit effective period

  • Annual Divisible Permits will now be valid for one year from the effective start date of the permit. This is to better align with the DMV registration system. Annual Divisible Permits will no longer be tied to a set start and termination date (May 1 to April 30 of the following year).

Change to Annual and Monthly Divisible Permit – Vehicle Data Collection

  • For Tractor/Dump-Trailer combination Divisible Load permits, the system will no longer require the entry of trailer information. The permit will now be issued to a specific tractor and can be paired with any other legally registered trailer that conforms to all federal, state, and local requirements. This eliminates the need for a separate permit for every possible combination pairing.

End-of-Period Notification for Period-Based Permits

  • The system will automatically send an email notification identifying which permits are set to expire in the following month for each carrier. The email address to be used is the same as the email address identified on the permit.

Minor Function/Procedural Message Additions

  • New pop-up text boxes have been added to clarify system functionality requirements.

For specific information or inquiries, contact the Oversize / Overweight Vehicle Permit office.

MTAC submits testimony on Act Concerning Revenue Items to Implement the Governor’s Budget

MTAC President Joe Sculley submitted testimony this week in response to a bill implementing the Governors proposed budget for 2021. This year’s budget includes the truck milage tax, which will impose a levy on trucks that is based on weight and milage traveled in the state.

In the testimony Sculley gave a number of reasons why MTAC opposes the bill and went on to say “In-state businesses will pay this tax, while out-of-state businesses will evade (not pay) it, either knowingly or unknowingly.” Sculley went on to list a number of MTAC members showing how much they will pay annually if lawmakers move forward with the bill.

Sculley then went on to say, “The trucking industry is the backbone of the American economy, it is comprised of small businesses, and provides good paying jobs for anyone who wants to work hard to earn a good living.”

The complete letter is available as a PDF and provided below.

Re: HB 6443 An act concerning revenue items to implement the governor’s budget

MTAC Opposes

Co-Chair Fonfara, Co-Chair Scanlon, Ranking Member Martin, Ranking Member Cheeseman, and members of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony. My name is Joe Sculley, I am the president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut (MTAC), which is a statewide trade association representing small business trucking companies.

MTAC opposes this tax targeting our industry for the following reasons:

  • In-state businesses will pay this tax, while out-of-state businesses will evade (not pay) it, either knowingly or unknowingly
  • It will cost in-state trucking companies a lot of money. Here are some estimates that have been given to me:

  • More details on the chart above can be seen in this video.
  • It will most likely not generate the estimated $90 million annually;
    • A weight-distance tax is expensive to administer, and easy to evade.
    • 20 states have repealed weight-distance taxes because they don’t work (didn’t generate predicted revenue, weren’t enforced): AL, AZ, AR, CO, FL, GA, IA, ID, KS, MI, MN, NV, OH, OK, UT, TN, WI, WV, WY
    • Studies by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) estimate that New York’s weight-distance tax has an evasion rate of anywhere from 35% to 50%+
    • Commissioner McCaw stated on Feb 10 that the tax would be on the “honor system,” and that the state would not hire additional enforcement personnel
  • Connecticut won’t be able to leverage the federal funds the administration is discussing due to the likely shortfall in collected revenue
  • It is not the trucking industry’s fault that more than $1 billion in fuel tax receipts were diverted and spent on non-transportation purposes over several years
  • Truckers pay many taxes and fees that passenger cars do not.
    • 12% Federal Excise Tax, Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, Federal Tire Tax, Unified Carrier Registration Fees, Federal diesel tax, International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA), International Registration Plan (IRP)
  • The average 5-axle tractor trailer in Connecticut pays more than $17,000 annually in state and federal road taxes. The industry pays more than it’s fair share.
  • Commercial trucking was deemed an “essential workforce” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) classified truck drivers as essential to the continued viability of our nation’s infrastructure for the duration of the pandemic. The state government agreed.
    • The industry kept our country’s society going during the pandemic, and continued to pay road taxes while doing so. Most passenger car drivers did not travel, and thus did not pay many road taxes (fuel taxes). Now, trucking is being targeted to close a funding gap which it did not cause.

The legislature should consider implementing an electric vehicle fee, like 28 other states have done. Since electric vehicle owners do not buy gas and pay gas tax, they are not paying their fair share as far as funding the maintenance of our roads and bridges.

States with EV fees: AL, AR, CA, CO, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MS, MI, NE, NC, ND, OH, OR, SC, TN, UT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY

The trucking industry is the backbone of the American economy, it is comprised of small businesses, and provides good paying jobs for anyone who wants to work hard to earn a good living. USDOT data shows that 97% of trucking companies operate 20 trucks or less. USDOL data shows that more than 40% of truck drivers are minorities. Public policy targeting small businesses, who employ a diverse group of people, would be an incredibly poor decision. I urge rejection of the truck mileage tax.

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About the Connecticut Trucking Industry

  • 85.8%: number of Connecticut communities that depend exclusively on trucks to move their goods
  • 98%: percent of manufactured tonnage transported by truck in Connecticut
  • $3.4 billion: total trucking industry wages paid in Connecticut (2018)
  • 61,590: trucking industry jobs in Connecticut (2018)
  • $55,777: average annual salary in Connecticut (2018)
  • $9,026: average annual CT-imposed highway user fees paid by tractor trailers (as of 1/1/2020)
  • $8,906: average annual fed-imposed highway user fees paid by tractor trailers (as of 1/1/2020)