Friday, March 23, 2018

Soy coalition wants heavier trucks allowed on interstates

Monday, January 29, 2018

Allowing six-axle, 91,000-pound semis would enable a farmer to transport an additional 137 bushels of soybeans or wheat or 146 additional bushels of corn per load, according to a Soy Transportation Coalition executive. (©2018 FOTOSEARCH)
Allowing six-axle, 91,000-pound semis would enable a farmer to transport an additional 137 bushels of soybeans or wheat or 146 additional bushels of corn per load, according to a Soy Transportation Coalition executive. (©2018 FOTOSEARCH)

ANKENY, Iowa — The Soy Transportation Coalition wants to see heavier trucks on the nation’s interstate highway system.

Permitting six-axle, 91,000-pound tractor trailers on the interstate system is one of 10 priorities the trade association says are important to endure the transportation needs of the U.S. soybean industry in the midst of national debate on the U.S. infrastructure.

Another item on the top 10 list is a call for an increase in the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel by 10 cents a gallon and index the tax to inflation, and ensure rural areas receive proportionate, sufficient funding from the fuel tax increase.  

“Allowing six-axle, 91,000-pound semis would enable a farmer to transport an additional 137 bushels of soybeans or wheat or 146 additional bushels of corn per load.  This would, of course, result in fewer truck trips, fewer gallons of fuel consumed,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the coalition. “I think it’s important to note that trucking and rail — particularly within agriculture — are increasingly not interchangeable modes of transportation.  Over the past several decades, the railroads have adopted a business model of emphasizing long-haul service, which has resulted in limiting access to the rail network in rural areas. The average rail haul for soybeans and grain is 900 miles.  Trucking is mostly utilized to feed into the long-haul modes — like rail and barge — vs. competing with them.”

As the nation increasingly examines and explores the multi-modal transportation system, many suggestions from policymakers and constituents have been long on ambition but short on specifics, Steenhoek said. Moreover, there is a concern within agriculture that the transportation interests of urban areas could exclude the interests of rural areas, he added.  

“Farmers should realize that if we are unwilling to promote the transportation solutions that would benefit our industry, we should not expect others to do so,” says Gerry Hayden, a soybean farmer from Calhoun, Kentucky, and chairman of the Soy Transportation Coalition.  “During this pivotal time in which the White House and Congress are developing a strategy for improving our multi-modal transportation system, it is critical the farmer perspective has a seat at the table.”  

Steenhoek said that given how soybeans and many agricultural products have arguably the most diverse and elongated supply chain of any industry, the list highlights opportunities to enhance rural roads and bridges, highways and interstates, freight rail service, the inland waterway system, and ports.

The STC board of directors also decided to list the top 10 priorities, rather than ranking them against each other, he added.

The other eight items on the most-wanted list are:    

  • Maintenance and rehabilitation of locks and dams to significantly reduce the potential for unexpected, widespread, and prolonged failure. Priority should be devoted to ensuring the reliability of locks and dams along the nation’s inland waterways.  Available funding for new construction of locks and dams should be directed first to locks and dams 20-25 on the Mississippi River.
  • Dredging the lower Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to the Gulf of Mexico to 50 feet.
  • Ensuring the Columbia River shipping channel from Portland, Oregon, to the Pacific Ocean is maintained at no less than 43 feet.
  • Provide greater predictability and reliability of funding for locks and dams along the inland waterway system.
  • Provide block grants to states to replace the top 20 most critical rural bridges.
  • Provide grants to states to implement rural bridge load testing projects to more accurately diagnose which bridges are sufficient and which bridges are deficient.
  • Ensure full utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for port improvement initiatives.
  • Permanent (or at least multi-year) extension of the short line railroad tax credit.

 “In developing the list, the Soy Transportation Coalition board of directors did not want to simply promote those infrastructure projects with the largest price tag,” Hayden said.  “Some of the items on the list certainly do involve more federal investment, which we believe is appropriate.  However, we also believe many of our transportation challenges can be addressed by implementing smarter regulations and by practicing better stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”  

“When it comes to transportation, I would rather the federal government be predictably good than sporadically great,” Steenhoek said. “In order for the soybean industry to remain profitable, we must be responsive and nimble in an increasingly dynamic global marketplace.  We therefore need the federal government to help provide and maintain our multi-modal transportation network in a condition that inspires confidence and future investment.  One of the best ways of accomplishing this is for federal government to promote greater predictability and reliability in how our transportation assets are maintained and how funding is provided.  This is currently not occurring.  We are hopeful that by calling greater attention to a number of the specific transportation needs of the soybean industry and much of U.S. agriculture the federal government will become more of a facilitator of our global competitiveness and less of an obstacle to it.”            

Established in 2007, the Soy Transportation Coalition is comprised of thirteen state soybean boards, the American Soybean Association, and the United Soybean Board.  The goal of the organization is to position the soybean industry to benefit from a transportation system that delivers cost effective, reliable and competitive service.



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