Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Will US Road Haulage and Freight Sector Pay to Replace Crumbling Transport Infrastructure

Whilst Bridges, Railways, Ports and Airports Crumble Politicians Continue to Dither
Shipping News Feature

US – This week saw Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Transportation, address members of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to discuss the perennial problem which the government faces, the need to sort out long term funding to address the country’s literally crumbling transport infrastructure. This is an issue crucial to the road haulage and freight community but one which the Congress has managed to fudge an astonishing 28 times in six years by passing short term funding.

This week a lead feature on the popular CBS ‘60 Minutes’ show explored the depth of the problem calling the situation ‘Political Paralysis’ and heard from Ray LaHood, Mr Foxx’s predecessor. This is a man who understands the extent to which things have deteriorated and a fourteen minute video of the show is well worth a look. Some of the deterioration illustrated is, quite simply, frightening but there has hitherto been no political will to address the situation, despite tragedies like the collapse of a bridge on I-35 in Minnesota in 2007 which killed thirteen people.

32% of America’s major highways are said to be in a parlous state and in need of immediate attention but politicians simply have lacked the will to drive through funding anywhere near sufficient to finance this. It may finally be time for organisations such as AASHTO, which brought pressure on Congress in 1955 to pass Eisenhower’s national highway programme, and the Tire Industry Association (TIA), members of which will be out in force on their Federal Lobby Day February 5, to really make their views known.

Eisenhower’s move led to much of the fifty year old infrastructure development which is now falling apart at the seams, and labour representative Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President, pointed out that when business and labour interests are both firmly behind something positive at last being done, it is surely time for politicians to act. The TIA says there are four options for Congress to consider when it next decides policy next year. One is a mixture of dragging revenue in from disparate sources such as Congestion Charging, Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) charges, a National Weight-Distance Tax on Truckers, more private highways and the consequential road tolls and a sales tax on oil producers at wholesale level.

Two other proposals are basically watered down versions of the fourth and, to many overseas eyes, the most logical way to raise the funds, that of a $2 dollar a gallon tax on road fuel. This of course has been viewed as an anathema by politicians of all hues for decades but is now recognised by many beyond the environmental lobby as the most sensible route, those who use the most fuel pay for the repairs.

The elephant in the room however is the spectre of increased fuel costs which terrifies US politicians as in no other country. The rate paid by American consumers compared to most other countries beggars belief, with regular gasoline fetching just $2.90 and diesel around $3.90 per gallon. Compare this with the UK prices of $7.28 and $7.58 respectively, 64.59% of which is in government taxes and duty.

Certainly nothing will now be done until post-election next year but whether the US representatives will muster the courage to tell the electorate that the time has come to screw their courage to the sticking place remains to be seen.

Photo: The collapsed I-35 bridge which killed thirteen and injured many more.