With just days remaining until the expiration of current highway funding law, the Senate continues to push forward with a six-year federal highway bill, teeing up a show down with the House, which passed a five-month extension to transportation programs earlier this month.
Senators leading the push toward passage of a long-term bill have major obstacles to overcome prior to the July 31 deadline, including time, several controversial amendments that would extend the Export-Import Bank and defund Obamacare, lack of funding, and lack of interest by the House to consider the legislation.
Progress on these issues this week will determine how Congress eventually moves forward with the bill.
The Senate bill, titled the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act, largely contains the same language that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed in June, including the provision that would amend the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program (ISRRPP), which allows three states to seek tolling authority to fund maintenance on interstate highways, and contains a weight exemption for natural gas trucks.
The DRIVE act amends the ISRRPP to require those states awarded tolling authority under the program to relinquish their slot if they fail to implement tolls within a certain timeframe. It also would allow states to divert tolls collected under the program to any federally funded infrastructure project once the tolled lanes have been maintained.
The natural gas weight exemption would allow vehicles operated by natural gas to exceed weight limits up to a maximum gross vehicle weight of 82,000 pounds by an amount that is equal to the difference between the weight of the vehicle attributable to the natural gas tank and fueling system carried by the vehicle and the weight of a comparable diesel tank and fueling system.
The measure also includes substantial changes to trucking industry oversight. The measure takes several steps aimed at improving the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) data quality, including requiring FMCSA to conduct a comprehensive study of the CSA program as well as its data and scoring. It also would remove public scores until a corrective action plan has been published and implemented.
Additionally, the bill would allow hair testing as a method of satisfying drug testing requirements and directs FMCSA to establish a six-year pilot program to allow states to “enter into interstate compacts to allow for appropriately licensed drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 to travel in interstate commerce.”
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