U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Importance of Trucking
I did a number of things last weekend that I suspect for the most part are similar to many others.
I filled my car with gas, bought groceries, filled a prescription, sent a package to my family in Arizona, took delivery of some books I ordered on-line, and given the unusual spring-like weather here in the DC area, took a motorcycle ride. All of these things were possible because of trucking. Thanks to friends like Annette Sandberg, Katie Dusenberry, Dave Berry, and the late Terry Smalley, I know that.
I wonder though, if the American public has sufficient appreciation for how critical the freight sector overall, and trucking specifically, is to their everyday lives. Without the on-going ingenuity and productivity provided by your industry, it is safe to say that the quality of life of virtually every American today would be diminished, and costs increased. Your industry hauled over nine billion tons of freight in 2003, or nearly 70 percent of all tonnage in the United States. And we project freight volume will increase by 50 percent in the next 20 years.
Our goal in the Bush Administration is to make it safer, easier and less expensive to move freight across the highway network. Like you, we know that the trucking industry represents a major competitive advantage for the United States, and is a leading indicator of the health of our economy.
President Bush announced his 2006 Budget yesterday. The budget focuses resources on the nation's priorities while exercising responsible spending restraint in order to achieve the President's goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009.
His emphasis is on maintaining a strong economy, spending taxpayer dollars wisely, and meeting national priorities, including protecting America, supporting our troops, promoting economic opportunity and ownership, supporting a compassionate society, and making government more effective.
The President's 2006 budget certainly underscores the importance of our nation's highways by including $284 billion in Federal resources toward the six-year reauthorization of surface transportation programs. This represents a 35 percent increase over TEA-21. This record level of funding supports Secretary Mineta's goals of improving the nation's 160,000 mile National Highway System, and making the system safer and more efficient.
Certainly major improvements to our intermodal transportation system are required if we are going to efficiently move the volumes of freight forecast during the next 20 years.
Need for Reauthorization
It is our hope that Congress will now quickly reach agreement on reauthorization of surface transportation programs.
As you all know, the major Federal legislation for highway surface transportation programs has been delayed for well over a year now.
Among the important issues of reauthorization, the Bush Administration has proposed that freight considerations be an integral part of our national transportation strategy through a comprehensive national Freight Action Plan. Our proposal specifically targets resources to the often-neglected National Highway System connector roads to ports and other intermodal freight facilities, the so-called "last mile."
It is also important that we look to the future. The user-fee system set up to finance the Interstate Highway system -- the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and the gas tax -- has served us well.
But, traditional funding is simply not keeping up with the growth of business, personal, and freight needs. Highway Trust Fund receipts are no longer a proxy for needs, and we have a serious and growing mismatch between supply and demand.
We believe we need to diversify our highway-funding portfolio, and that road pricing should be part of that discussion. Pricing can help to encourage private investment, spur innovation, and dramatically reduce congestion.
I understand you have concerns with tolling, and it is important to recognize and discuss those concerns with you. I also believe that we share the common goals of having a safe and efficient transportation system, and one that treats all users of the system fairly. I think we agree that electronic tolling, rather than having to stop at tollbooths, and compatibility among systems is important.
It is important for you to know that our desire is to provide options to state and local governments -- options that will bring additional funds and efficiency to meet transportation demand and manage congestion. I sincerely believe that we must explore pricing as part of a menu of options for meeting our nation's transportation needs in the future. It is not an option that will work everywhere, and certainly we need to work together on your concerns.
As with personal users, many truckers could benefit from having the option to use a less congested toll road when it improved productivity or allowed you to make a scheduled delivery.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Governor Graves (ATA president and CEO) last week.
I will continue to work with him and all of ATA to have a safe and efficient transportation system -- a system that allows you to do your job more efficiently and at a lower overall cost, one that keeps the trucking industry -- and America -- on the move.