April 07, 2011

Transportation Bill Improves Efficiency, Savings

Gas price increases create need for fewer, more cost-effective trips

Washington, D.C.  - With gasoline and diesel prices skyrocketing, those bringing America's goods to market must utilize competitive advantages in order to keep consumer prices as low as possible.  That idea is behind the introduction this week of the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA) in the U.S. Senate.  Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, with jurisdiction over transportation issues, is an original co-sponsor of the bipartisan legislation, with Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin). 

S. 747, co-sponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), would give states the option of adding extra axles to truck weights in order to establish matching weight standards in all states for interstate commerce.  Idaho currently allows for 97,000 pound loads under special permitting and axle options.  The SETA bill would allow other states the same option if axles are added to maintain safety and weight standards.  Under present law, trucks heavier than 80,000 pounds are forced off the Interstate and onto local roads in some states. 

"The efficiency and costs of transportation have a direct bearing on the costs to both consumers and the transportation industry," Crapo said.  "This legislation gives states the option to match the load limits allowed in Idaho and other states, while employing extra safety and weight distribution through the use of additional axles.  The use of additional axles means there is no additional impact on highways or the stopping distances of trucks in case of emergencies."

"Businesses and consumers alike are concerned about high energy prices.  We must do everything we can to lessen the shock of $100-per-barrel oil and $4-per-gallon gas, and we must reduce our usage of and dependence on foreign oil," said Kohl.  "This is a common sense bill that will save money for the American companies that make everyday products as well as the families that use them.  I've heard from businesses across the state that have told me that lowering their fuel costs will increase their competitiveness and free up the money they need to create more jobs."

As the cost of each load increases with escalating gasoline and diesel prices, Idaho industry leaders, agricultural producers and manufacturers say the legislation is needed to improve efficiency.

Idaho Potato Commission members note the legislation could reduce costs, trips and emissions. 

"Trucks are the primary mode for shipping Idaho potatoes, and help us feed millions of people around the globe and maintain thousands of jobs here at home," said Pat Kole, the Commission's Vice-President for Legal and Governmental Affairs.  "The Potato Commission supports SETA because it will provide a much-needed opportunity to reduce the transportation costs, fuel and emissions that go into shipping each of our potatoes.  The proposal will also make the shipment of our products safer by reducing the truckloads and vehicle miles necessary to get goods to market."

MillerCoors, which purchases millions of bushels of Idaho grains annually, said the legislation would reduce trips on Idaho's interstate highways.  "For MillerCoors, agricultural products are essential to brewing our fine beers," said Kris Smelser, Idaho Regional Manager for MillerCoors.  "We purchase approximately one-fifth of our total barley in Idaho.  Due to the federal weight limit, trucks hauling barley from our grain elevator in Burley, Idaho, are typically just 65 percent full.  SETA would allow us to more fully fill our vehicles and eliminate approximately 260 truck loads traveling in the state each year.  The beer industry is transportation-intensive and passage of SETA would make our transportation operations much more efficient.  For example, MillerCoors could reduce trucks moving finished beer in Idaho by roughly 1,000 loads annually.  Nationwide, that translates into about 2,000 fewer trucks each week-eliminating more than one million weekly vehicle miles driven.  That means increased safety on our highways."

Boise, Inc.'s Vice President for Human Resources and Corporate Affairs, Virginia Aulin, said, "Boise, Inc. applauds Senator Crapo for introducing a bill that will reduce our carbon footprint and make our products more sustainable and more competitive.  Under SETA, Boise, Inc. could annually eliminate several thousand truck loads from our operations, dramatically reducing fuel use and emissions associated with our products.  SETA is also a critical tool for the recovery of the forest products industry, which needs new, innovative ways to maintain and grow its market share.  The bill will help Boise remain competitive by allowing us to reduce our transportation costs throughout the country."

George Lake, Vice President, Ingredient, of Idahoan Foods, said, "Many trucks carrying our products hit the federal weight limit with extra space inside the trailer. Under SETA, Idahoan Foods and other companies will be able to utilize more truck space to make our shipments safer, greener and more efficient."

The J.R. Simplot Company has estimated it might be able to eliminate 450,000 miles traveled each year on Idaho highways under the plan.  Those transporting Idaho goods and services agree on the increased efficiency.

"Trucks literally move our state's economy," said Bill Moad, Chair of the Idaho Trucking Association.  "They carry Idaho goods to other states and countries so we can grow and maintain businesses here. Truck operators also pay more than their fair share of Highway Trust Fund revenues.  By improving the productivity of each truck, Senator Crapo's Safe and Efficient Transportation Act will strengthen the economy and make it possible to ship Idaho goods using fewer truckloads, fuel and emissions."

"Farmers and shippers in Idaho and across the country depend on trucking and need a more efficient way to get products to market," said Travis Blacker, President of the Idaho Grower Shippers Association.  "Senator Crapo's legislation would make truck shipments safer and more environmentally friendly, while reducing transportation costs for farmers so they can focus on putting food on America's table."

The Deputy Director for the Idaho Department of Transportation, Scott Stokes, said,"Economic vitality is one of the Idaho Transportation Department's primary focus areas.  ITD supports Senator Crapo's efforts to explore ways to improve the effective and efficient movement of goods and services. Many of our state and interstate routes could serve these proposed truck configurations, and we look forward to working with him on this bill."

Taxpayer advocates are also lauding the benefits of the legislation.  They say the idea helps pay for itself through increased economic activity.

"Senator Crapo's bill to carefully modernize the federal weight limit will not only accommodate population growth, but it will also encourage economic growth," noted Peter Sepp, Executive Vice President of the National Taxpayers Union.  "Even though shippers that choose to carry more weight would pay a slightly higher user fee, they'd also save money on overhead, including some kinds of taxes.  Highway and traffic conditions vary, so SETA puts each state in charge of settling interstate weight limits that are sensible and productive for both motorists and commerce.  Most importantly, the proposal will save taxpayer dollars by minimizing pavement wear.  SETA is just the kind of legislation America needs to break transportation policy out of the tax-and-spend mentality."