ATA: Trump holds key to passing infrastructure package

Photo Credit: Jim Allen/Freightwaves

President Trump will have to be more vocal in supporting a payment package for the nation’s highway system if there is to be any hope of Congress passing infrastructure legislation this year, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

“It’s going to be really important that the President himself weighs in,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear, speaking today (April 3) before the release of a major new media campaign sponsored by the association.

“In order for the House [of Representatives] to move first and get a bill done, he’s going to need to weigh in beyond saying, ‘I want infrastructure, I campaigned on it.’ He’s going to have to say, ‘I want this bill,’ or ‘I support this funding stream.’ It’s also really important for the President to weigh in for the Senate to take up that House bill and get it done by the end of the year. So it really will take all three, in that order, for this to become a reality.”

ATA’s media campaign includes a “six-figure” television and digital advertising buy that will run eight weeks and begin airing in the Washington, D.C. market this week, with additional markets to follow. It features a commercial highlighting what a lack of infrastructure funding means for consumers.

“We feel strongly that the commercial strikes a chord with what most people out there feel when they’re sitting in traffic in excess of 42 hours every year,” Spear said. He pointed out that the trucking industry lose $74.5 billion annually while trucks sit in traffic, equating to 425,000 truck drivers sitting idle. “Imagine the time wasted and the costs passed on that raises prices for goods that we all pay for. And [trucking] are only four percent of vehicles on the road. Commuters average $1,600 a year in lost time sitting in traffic and damage to vehicles.”

The new campaign comes at a time when, despite multiple hearings on Capitol Hill, there has not yet been bipartisan consensus on a funding mechanism to pay for a reauthorization package. ATA, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, support raising the gas tax by 20 cents (five cents per year over four years), which the ATA says will infuse $340 billion into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Without a funding source the HTF will be depleted by 2021.

“We want to make sure [Congress] knows we want the bill fully funded with real money, not fake funding like [public-private partnerships] and tolling schemes – we want real immediate money,” Spear said.

But relying on President Trump to rally support for a surface reauthorization proposal that requires a gas-tax “pay-for” funding mechanism could make for a difficult road ahead, as Trump has so far leaned heavily on individual states and leveraging the private sector to pay for infrastructure.

Spear counters that potential hurdle by noting that he sees “no daylight” between business and labor on the infrastructure issue.

“That’s very unusual in a town that’s very divided, and I’m optimistic that the [media campaign] effort will resonate well with Democrats and Republicans. We all drive on roads, they don’t discriminate based on party affiliation. If the White House, House and Senate can see to it and do what’s right for the country, we’re going to see an infrastructure bill pass into law hopefully later this year.”

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John Gallagher, Washington Correspondent

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.

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