WASHINGTON — Truckers who applauded the long-overdue infrastructure bill now making its way through Congress were blindsided by a proposed amendment that would increase their costs of doing business.
On June 18, Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-Illinois) submitted a proposed amendment to the bill that would increase the minimum level of financial responsibility for most carriers from the current $750,000 to $2 million. Haulers of hazardous materials are currently required to carry minimum liability insurance of $1 million to $5 million, depending on quantity and hazard class.
Some carriers who have ceased operations in the past year cited the high cost of insurance as a factor in the demise of their businesses. The proposed amendment will undoubtedly add significantly to those costs.
Garcia sits on the Highways and Transit subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and is a member of the Future of Transportation Caucus.
H.R. 2, titled Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act (better known by its acronym, INVEST in America), was introduced into the House by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) on June 11. The bill would authorize spending of $494 billion for infrastructure and related projects over the next five years. The act, if approved, will replace the current highway funding act, FAST, which is set to expire Sep. 30.
The bill is currently in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and has not been released to the full House for a vote.
Critics of the bill note that the $319 billion earmarked for highway investments falls far short of the amounts estimated by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in its 2017 Report Card, in which the group estimated a $543 billion cost just to bring current roads and bridges to an “acceptable” level. The organization estimated another $293 billion will be needed for system expansion and enhancements. The next Report Card from ASCE will be issued in 2021.
Others criticize the bill on political grounds, including the exclusion of House Republicans from the drafting process and because of proposed funding of “green” initiatives such as emissions measurement and electric-vehicle charging stations.
Garcia’s amendment passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee June 17 by a roll-call vote of 37-27.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which had previously issued a press release in support of the INVEST in America Act, sent a letter to committee members June 16 that opposed the Garcia amendment.
“Passage of the amendment would be a poison pill for OOIDA and our members, forcing us to vigorously oppose a bill we otherwise support,” Collin Long, OOIDA’s director of government affairs, said in the letter.
The letter also stated, “Increasing the minimum insurance requirements from $750,000 to $2 million in the midst of a major economic downturn would be nothing short of disastrous for many small motor carriers and owner-operators, who are currently struggling to stay in business due to historically low freight rates.”
Once out of committee, the INVEST in America Act will go to the full House for approval. How it will fare in the Republican-controlled Senate is not known, but Republicans who feel excluded from the drafting of the bill will now have more cause to reject it, due to Rep. Garcia’s amendment.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.