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FHWA administrator designee says rural roads need attention

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Nicole Nason says if confirmed as FHWA administrator she will work toward helping find a solution to the Highway Trust Fund shortfall. (Courtesy: U.S. SENATE)

WASHINGTON — During a hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on January 29, Nicole Nason said that, should the committee confirm her nomination as administrator of the Federal Highway Administration and the full Senate concurs, she plans to place a special focus on rural roadway safety.

“My priority is safety on all roads, but we must recognize and address some of the unique safety challenges faced by rural communities,” she explained in her testimony as reported in an article in the Journal, a publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

In 2017, Nason said, 37,133 people lost their lives in U.S. highway crashes. Yet, as an example of how rural communities are “disproportionately” affected by road safety issues, 17,216 of those fatalities occurred on rural roads, representing 47 percent of total fatalities for 2017 – even though only 19 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas.

“This is not acceptable. The only acceptable number is zero,” she said. “If confirmed, I will tirelessly support FHWA’s leadership role in providing safety-related assistance and resources to our stakeholders as we work towards a common goal of zero deaths on our nation’s roads.”

Other issues Nason plans to focus on if confirmed as the FHWA’s next administrator include:

  • The United States faces an “ongoing challenge” of preserving and improving over four million miles of public roads and over 600,000 bridges and tunnels, she said; thus ensuring sufficient investment in those assets is important not only because it enhances safety, but “because it further benefits all Americans by increasing mobility and stimulating our nation’s productivity and economic growth.”
  • Nason noted that while the Highway Trust Fund is projected to have enough cash to cover highway expenditures through the end of fiscal year 2020, a “sustainable, long-term funding solution” must be found. “If confirmed, I look forward to working with Congress to find a solution,” she said.

Nason also emphasized that FHWA will play a critical role in helping reauthorize surface transportation funding legislation, as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act will expire at the end of fiscal year 2020. “I was proud to play a part in helping shape SAFETEA-LU [The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, which was passed in 2005] when I previously served at the department [USDOT] and I look forward to the prospect of working together on any infrastructure or reauthorization efforts,” she said. “I recognize that there are challenges to be addressed, but I am ready to work with the [Transportation] Secretary and the Congress to address these important issues as there is not a one-size fits all solution.”

Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, voiced his support for Nason’s FHWA nomination and urged the committee to approve her.

“The Trump Administration made a wise choice with its nomination of Nicole Nason as the next FHWA Administrator. Given her nomination hearing today which was well-received by both sides of the aisle, we ask for a speedy approval by both the Committee and the full Senate,” he said in a statement. “Not only has Nason served as administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, she has also held the position of assistant secretary of government affairs at USDOT. We look forward to working with her to advance our nation’s transportation infrastructure goals through a strong partnership between FHWA and our state transportation departments.”

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the EPW committee, also voiced his support for Nason’s nomination as well.

“I applaud President Trump’s nomination of such an accomplished and dedicated public servant,” Sen. Barrasso said in his opening statement. “She brings impressive, meaningful experience in federal transportation policy to this critically important position.”

He added that the authorization of federal highway programs “will expire in September of next year,” with the Congressional Budget Office projects the Highway Trust Fund will become insolvent sometime in 2021,” Sen. Barrasso noted.

He also stressed that America’s transportation infrastructure “faces a lot of challenges” and that for “far too long” FHWA has lacked Senate-confirmed leadership.

Ranking Member Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., made a special note of the HTF’s revenue issues in his remarks at the hearing.

“Last year, we spent about $13 billion more from the Highway Trust Fund than we collected in revenues. Next year, that deficit will be even greater,” he said. “To pay for the FAST Act, we took $70 billion from the general fund and other programs. For the next five-year transportation bill, we will need to find an additional $85 billion just to keep our programs at the current funding level. Despite spending more than we collect, we still aren’t even spending enough [as] the backlog of money needed to rehabilitate and improve highways and bridges has grown to $800 billion.”

“That’s why we must work together in this committee to write and pass a bipartisan highway bill that upgrades America’s roads and bridges in a fiscally responsible manner, and do it in this Congress,” Sen. Barrasso explained. “We successfully worked together to pass comprehensive, bipartisan water infrastructure legislation. Now let’s come together to fix our highways, roads, and bridges.”

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The Nation

Diesel heads up 4 cents a gallon to $3.006

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Diesel prices jumped 4 cents a gallon to ring up Tuesday at $3.006. (The Trucker file photo)

For the past several months, including the end of 2018, all the “experts” said oil (and consequently diesel) was going nowhere but up. It had to, they reasoned, after prices had almost literally scraped the bottom of the barrel.

Then oil and diesel both went down for weeks. After that it stayed the same.

Now diesel prices are finally up — 4 cents a gallon — to $3.006 a gallon Tuesday from $2.966 a gallon last week.

Normally, diesel prices would have been announced Monday, but since it was President’s Day, diesel prices were released Tuesday.

And it may be a testament to how long prices had been going down or stayed flat that none of the U.S. Information Administration’s 10 reporting regions were clocking $4-a-gallon diesel, not even California, where diesel was ringing up at $3.739.

Also, four regions were still below $3 a gallon as of Tuesday.

And although 4 cents a gallon for the on-highway national average was a significant jump from the week before, the Lower Atlantic and Midwest regions each jumped 5.5 cents a gallon. Diesel in the Lower Atlantic sector went from $2.872 last week to $2.927 Tuesday while in the Midwest, diesel prices went from $2.849 last week to $2.904 today.

The Gulf Coast had the lowest prices at $2.809 a gallon, up 3.3 cents from the week prior.

Is this the start of an upward trend? It’s hard to know what oil prices will do in a global economy that is teetering since what seems like a bandwagon jump out of the European Union.

Meanwhile, oil was trading up:

U.S. crude added 48 cents to $56.07 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange after gaining $1.19 on Monday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 16 cents to $66.34 per barrel, The Associated Press reported.

For diesel prices by sector, click here.

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Ohio governor to reveal gas tax hike plan Thursday

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Ohio's tp Transportation Department executive says the state is facing an "impending crisis" unless more road funding is provided. (The Trucker file photo)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine says he’ll announce Thursday his proposed recommendation for increasing the state’s gas tax to deal with a chronic shortfall in spending on road construction.

DeWine, a Republican, says there are no other solutions outside a gas tax increase, while warning that any increase simply keeps Ohio from falling behind.

He wouldn’t provide details or say what the proposed increase will be. He spoke at an annual forum sponsored by The Associated Press.

DeWine says the increase is “just to keep us where we are today.”

The head of the Ohio Department of Transportation director said earlier this month that Ohio’s road maintenance and infrastructure are facing an “impending crisis” unless more funding is provided.

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OOIDA Foundation issues information it says debunks driver shortage ‘myth’

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Most carriers with high turnover do so by design, says OOIDA President Todd Spencer. “They could deal with driver turnover by offering better wages and benefits and improved working conditions,” he said.

GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. — The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s research foundation published two new documents it says debunks the driver shortage “myth.”

A fact sheet explains how the industry isn’t afflicted with a shortage of drivers, but is actually plagued with overcapacity and driver retention, the foundation reported.

A second, accompanying document talks about how wages have decreased for truck drivers at large carriers and many have moved toward smaller fleets.

Last year, the association also created a short video that explains why there is high turnover as opposed to a shortage.

“We are concerned about the perpetuation of a myth of driver shortage,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA President. “This misinformation is used to push agendas that are harmful to the industry and highway safety.”

To address the supposed driver “shortage,” some organizations have suggested that the age requirement to obtain a commercial driver’s license should be lowered from 21 to 18.

“If safety is the top priority when considering a change to a regulation, when it comes to age, the number should be raised, not lowered.” Spencer said.

OOIDA also contends that any issue with retention could be mitigated with other solutions that would be safer for all highway users.

For example, compensation has been shown to be tied directly to highway safety, as revealed in studies that suggest there is a strong correlation between driver pay and highway safety, Spencer said.

“Most carriers with high turnover do so by design,” he said. “They could deal with driver turnover by offering better wages and benefits and improved working conditions. But putting younger drivers behind the wheel of a truck isn’t the solution because it does nothing to address the underlying issues that push drivers out of the industry. It merely exacerbates the churn.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is the largest national trade association representing the interests of small-business trucking professionals and professional truck drivers. The association currently has more than 160,000 members nationwide. OOIDA was established in 1973 and is headquartered in the greater Kansas City, Missouri, area.

 

 

 

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