Infrastructure Still No Joking Matter

It was a little more than four years ago in this space that President Donald Trump and trucking were called an infrastructure match.

Trump entered office talking about his big plans to fix the nation’s infrastructure. Well, big surprise, the now ex-president is in Florida waiting for his second impeachment trial and nothing got done about the nation’s infrastructure during his term.

Newly sworn-in President Joe Biden has even bigger plans for infrastructure with $2.4 trillion being tossed about as the price tag for his vision for energy and infrastructure. Biden said he wants his administration to invest more in infrastructure than the country has seen since the Eisenhower administration.

The trucking industry, long a proponent for increased infrastructure funding and improvements, is hopeful this administration does more than the previous one.

“We have been talking about what a Biden administration might look like for transportation, for trucking specifically,” said Shannon Newton, the president of the Arkansas Trucking Association. “What are the issues on his agenda that align with ours? The top issue comes to the surface really quickly and that is infrastructure investment. That is probably the biggest opportunity that we would foresee or hope for with this administration and this Congress.

“There has been a lot of talk over the last four years, frankly, about the potential of having a robust infrastructure package that never really materialized. There was never any consensus. We are hopeful that the bills that were worked on the last four years might be able to gain some traction and we would see some substantial investment in infrastructure.”

The lack of any movement during the past four years led to a cottage industry of “infrastructure week” jokes. Pete Buttigieg referenced that during a speech after being nominated to head the Department of Transportation by Biden in December.

“Americans expect us to see to it that the idea of an infrastructure week is associated with results and never again a media punchline,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg doesn’t have much transportation industry experience, but Biden called the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a “new voice with new ideas.” Biden will have his hands full trying to get any massive infrastructure investment plan through a contentious Congress, but the general thought is that Buttigieg’s youth (he’s 39) and speaking skills could prove beneficial.

“The department is at the intersection of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better,” Biden said in nominating him. In his speech, Buttigieg said the first step to fulfilling Biden’s build back better slogan “literally is to build.”

The American Trucking Associations seemed pleased with Buttigieg’s nomination. His confirmation hearings were set to start last Thursday. “Transportation is an issue that touches all Americans — urban, rural, coastal and in the heartland,” ATA CEO Chris Spear said. “Having served as a mayor, Pete Buttigieg has had an up close and personal look at how our infrastructure problems are impacting Americans, and how important it is to solve them. We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and working with him to begin the important work of rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure.”

Newton said another important person in the Biden administration will be whoever is named to head the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The FMCSA is the agency responsible for regulating and overseeing the trucking industry.

Truckers, while appreciating good roads and bridges, are also subject to FMCSA rules such as hours of service and the use of electronic logging devices.

“That is the agency that we interact with the most, that has the most oversight of the trucking-specific regulations and trucking-specific policies,” Newton said. “We don’t know who that person will be at that agency. That will give us some idea of what to expect as far as policy.”