Barletta Leaves Imprint as Highway Bill Passes
WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta, PA-11, today supported a longer-term highway bill that avoids short-term patches of the kind Congress has passed three dozen times in recent years. The legislation, H.R. 22, the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act, or DRIVE Act, sets six years of transportation policies and funds them for the first three years. Barletta was able to secure important policy victories as the bill was crafted.
“Like almost everything in Washington, this bill does not contain everything I wanted, but it is a much better approach than slapping Band-Aids on our failing highway system every few months,” Barletta said. “This will be good news to states, localities, and contractors, who have been asking for some certainty so they can make decisions about projects, hiring, and purchasing equipment.”
Defeating Truck Weight Increase
Barletta was able to defeat an amendment offered by Rep. Reid Ribble (WI-8) that would have increased the weight limit for trucks from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds. Barletta said that local roads were not built to handle the increased weight, and the heavier trucks would pose a greater danger to their drivers and other motorists.
“As someone who grew up in the road construction business and then had to balance the books as Mayor of my hometown, I know just how much damage heavier trucks can cause in our local communities. Local roads and bridges were not designed to handle big rigs. There's a big difference between a local road that has a couple of inches of asphalt and an interstate that has a foot of concrete,” Barletta. “In a nutshell, our local communities cannot afford and do not want the increased costs of heavier trucks on our roads and bridges. They are less safe, and many trucking company drivers do not want to take on the risk of these dangerous vehicles.”
Making Railway Cars Safer
Barletta successfully amended the highway bill to require railway tanker cars carrying flammable liquids to be equipped with protections for their pressure safety valves. Newer tanker cars already have this type of feature, but the legislation requires older cars to be retrofitted. The requirement would make it more unlikely for tanker cars to burst into flames or explode in the event of an accident.
“The new safety measure would place top fittings protections on the tank car. These top fittings protect the pressure relief valve, which protects the integrity of a tank car,” Barletta said. “The valve can slowly release the gasses in the unlikely event that the tank car is exposed to pressure build-up in a fire as a result of a derailment. This decreases the likelihood of a major incident and provides first responders additional time.”
Agricultural Vehicles Near Farms
The highway bill also contains Barletta’s priority that states may adopt their own safety standards for agricultural vehicles operating near farms without jeopardizing federal transportation funding. Barletta authored the Local Farm Vehicle Flexibility Act to allow states to permit farmers to operate vehicles that are technically “uncovered” as they travel from point to point on a farm or to a nearby processing facility, even if they traverse public roads in the process. The legislation clarifies language included in the 2012 Highway Transportation Bill, or the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).
“Following passage of MAP-21, farmers in Pennsylvania wanted changes to state law that would exempt farm trucks carrying harvested farm products from preventing any material from escaping,” Barletta said. “Farmers can only comply with this requirement by covering their loads, which is disruptive and time consuming. This becomes impractical when moving short distances between farm fields and local processing plants, and law enforcement is known for making citations for failure to comply.”
Highway Safety Improvement Program
The House highway bill fully funds the Highway Safety Improvement Program, which pays for safety measures such as guardrails, retroreflective signs and road markings. The Senate bill significantly reduces the program.
“One of my top priorities in the House Highway Bill was to make sure that we fix the Senate bill’s indiscriminate cuts to highway safety. No one writes newspaper stories about the fatal accidents that didn’t happen, but it is still important to know that guardrails save lives,” Barletta said. “These safety measures are an important part of the bill.”
Safer Trucks and Buses
The highway bill includes much of Barletta’s Safer Trucks and Buses Act, which seeks to reform safety scores for carriers by making the scores more reflective of the company’s safety record. The legislation would temporarily halt the publication of flawed safety scores until the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) scoring system is revamped. The CSA program was rushed into usage and often does not reflect changes made by carriers to improve their approaches to safety. The language in no way eliminates law enforcement access to safety data, meaning that the worst offenders can still be targeted
“A faulty safety score might as well be no safety score,” Barletta said. “I have four daughters, and I want the roads to be safe. Unfortunately, companies across the country and in Pennsylvania are being unfairly misrepresented by their safety scores, causing economically devastating impacts to these bus and truck companies, many of which are small businesses.”
In addition to the planned reform of the safety scores, Barletta was able to obtain the agreement of Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (PA-9) to work in the future toward preventing the faulty scores from being used as evidence in liability cases.