5 Reasons the FAST Act Highway Bill is Good for the Transportation Industry
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With hours to spare before federal transportation funding was set to expire, President Obama signed into law a five-year, $305 billion highway bill in December. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act is the first long-term surface transportation funding bill passed by Congress in over a decade and aims to improve trucking safety and efficiency.
The FAST Act in Summary
According to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the purpose of the FAST Act is to “improve the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure, including our roads, bridges, transit systems, and rail transportation network. The bill reforms and strengthens transportation programs, refocuses on national priorities, provides long-term certainty and more flexibility for states and local governments, streamlines project approval processes, and maintains a strong commitment to safety.”
The FAST Act is a welcome piece of legislation for the transportation industry. While the bill is not perfect, leaders of the American Trucking Association (ATA) praise the House and Senate for coming together to end the pattern of short, stopgap funding fixes (Food Logistics).
Below are 5 reasons the new highway bill is good for the transportation industry.
1. Improved Infrastructure. The FAST Act provides most of the funding needed to repair and expand our aging roads, bridges, and railroads, laying out several major construction projects over the next five years. A long-term commitment to a safer, more efficient transportation infrastructure in all states means a safer, more efficient supply chain for shippers.
2. CSA Reform.The highway bill also requires FMCSA to fix problems with the Compliance Safety, Accountability (CSA) carrier scoring and ranking program. Specifically, the bill removes carriers’ percentile rankings from public view until the program’s faults—like questionable safety record data—have been identified and fixed (Overdrive). This is not the first time CSA reform has been proposed—we wrote about a similar bill last year. As the FMCSA works to revise problems, it’s important for all parties in the supply chain to continue to perform due diligence as it relates to transportation safety.
3. More Thorough Drug Testing. Once the Department of Health and Human Services establishes guidelines for hair-follicle drug testing, carriers will be able to conduct hair tests under the new bill. In the past, only urine tests have been allowed. Hair-follicle testing is considered by many to be more accurate than urinalysis, as it can detect drug use over a 90-day period compared with a week or so. Hair tests are also said to be better at revealing chronic drug use. Though a somewhat controversial topic—as this will likely further perpetuate the driver shortage—tighter drug testing may prevent unsafe driving in the future (JOC.com).
4. Higher Rail Safety Standards. In addition to improving road infrastructure, the FAST Act phases out older, more dangerous rail cars from carrying crude oil. It also requires the use of thicker thermal protection blankets on oil tank cars. This comes after a number of disastrous derailments involving crude oil loads in recent years. These precautions will help ensure improved railroad safety and fewer supply chain disruptions (Flathead Beacon).
5. Driver Shortage Solutions. The bill presents a few solutions to the ongoing driver shortage: it makes it easier for military veterans returning from service to obtain truck driver jobs, and it allows drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 to cross state lines as part of a controlled study. Veterans who have experience operating heavy military machinery can use that experience toward skills tests, and vets can also receive medical certifications needed to drive from Veterans Affairs doctors—rather than those listed in the FMCSA’s National Registry of Medical Examiners (Overdrive). In addition, the FMCSA is performing a study to analyze the benefits and safety impacts of allowing drivers under 21 to participate in interstate commerce. Though training and recruitment for these individuals may be initially costly, this could be a great initiative for trucking companies in the long run (Food Logistics).
The FAST Act brings exciting changes to transportation infrastructure, many of which are long overdue. With long-term plans for strengthening transportation programs through safer roads, bridges, and railways, the entire supply chain should see increased efficiency.