Today, infrastructure stakeholders testified at the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s first hearing of the 118th Congress on “The State of Transportation Infrastructure and Supply Chain Challenges.” The witnesses spoke to the challenges presented to their respective industries, resulting from supply chain disruptions, burdensome regulations, inflation, and more.
American Trucking Associations (ATA) President and CEO Chris Spear spoke to the need for Congress to oversee implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to ensure investment in projects that help freight mobility. He also emphasized ATA’s opposition to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) December 2021 memo intended to delay or deter critical road and highway expansion projects, as well as the need for Congress to address the truck parking shortage. Spear Testimony Highlights:
“Congress should provide the necessary oversight to ensure that the resources available from these important [competitive grant] programs are used primarily for projects that improve transportation safety and mobility, as well as projects that address infrastructure deficiencies that contribute to supply chain inefficiencies. These programs should not be used to advance parochial agendas that are outside of their Congressionally-mandated scope.”
“Additionally, ATA recommends against federal policies that are likely to prevent or hamstring State and local agencies’ efforts to expand highway capacity…. We are also concerned about policies that seek to eliminate or downgrade highways in the name of equity or environmental justice without fully accounting for the impacts of these approaches on supply chain efficiency.”
“The lack of available truck parking has a severe impact on the health and wellbeing of truck drivers, but it also contributes to driver utilization inefficiencies…. ATA supports the Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act….”
Association of American Railroads (AAR) President and CEO Ian Jefferies testified about the need for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to take a more forward-looking approach and why regulatory flexibility is needed to adopt new technologies and improve safety. Mr. Jeffries also called for a balanced regulatory approach to the rail industry. Jefferies Testimony Highlights:
“The next great leap forward in safety directly relies on the ability of railroads to innovate and deploy new technology but achieving the maximum benefit from these new technologies requires regulatory flexibility. While other Department of Transportation modal agencies are working to support greater automation and the safety benefits that accompany such technology, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)—railroads’ prime safety regulator—stands alone in its efforts to lock in yesterday’s regulatory approaches.”
“For example, automated track inspection (ATI) is changing the nature of track inspection by allowing railroads to gather massive amounts of data, analyze it for patterns and warning signs, and preventatively maintain their track.”
“Another example of FRA failing to understand the importance of technology in improving safety is the July 2022 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that, for all intents and purposes, would mandate two crew members in a locomotive cab.”
Hamilton Construction Vice President Jeff Firth, testifying on behalf of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), spoke about the impact of inflation driving up costs for the construction industry and the need for state flexibility in the implementation of IIJA. He also noted the harm that would be caused by recently proposed regulations, including the FHWA memo, the Biden Administration’s proposed waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, and the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Performance Measure. Firth Testimony Highlights:
on FHWA: “This memo has caused confusion with state DOTs about the mismatch between this guidance and the lack of corresponding requirements for such measures by the IIJA…. If FHWA wishes to prioritize certain types of programmatic policy changes, then the agency should work with Congress to legislate such changes or follow the notice and comment rulemaking process as required under the APA. Here, FHWA did neither.”
on GHG: “During debate of the IIJA and prior surface transportation laws, Congress considered proposals that would provide FHWA with the authority to create a performance measure on greenhouse gas emissions but ultimately rejected them. AGC believes that this greenhouse gas performance measure would be a one-size-fits-all mandate that would limit a state’s ability to choose transportation projects that fit its unique needs. We believe FHWA should follow congressional intent and refrain from reviving policy ideas that Congress considered and ultimately rejected.”
“Infrastructure project costs continue to climb amid rising construction materials prices and shortages. Material price increases have doubled or even tripled in some cases. The construction industry is facing material challenges that reach far and wide… Supply chain disruptions from the pandemic have inflated the cost of construction materials and made project delivery schedules and product availability more uncertain.”
“AGC also has concerns about recent changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) Phase I rulemaking. These changes add bureaucratic steps in an already onerous and slow process, require more time-consuming analyses, increase litigation risk for project decisions, and encourage agencies to impose requirements that go beyond CEQ regulations and would slow agency decision-making and discourage the transformational investments needed across the economy. Federal agencies are not just making changes to NEPA, they are systematically reversing all streamlining reforms from recent years as well as introducing additional requirements that will delay projects.”
Port Houston Executive Director Roger Guenther testified before the Committee about the importance of prioritizing investment in critical assets, such as our nation’s ports, as well as traditional infrastructure. Guenther Testimony Highlights:
“…it must be a federal priority and federal obligation to make the capital investments on the waterside and the landside in our channels and highway infrastructure that serve our nation’s ports to maintain resiliency and fluidity going forward…. ports most critical to the nation’s economy, should be prioritized for infrastructure investments. If not, the nation’s busiest supply chains are vulnerable to future disruption.”
"To remain in front of fluid commerce, our federal dollars must go to maintaining the authorized depth at our nation’s most critical ports, like Houston. Vessels continue to get larger and carry more cargo each year. We must be able to accommodate them."
Chairman Sam Graves’ statement from today’s hearing is available here.