A trucking industry trade group urged lawmakers on Wednesday to help alleviate supply chain bottlenecks by expanding parking availability on the nation's highways and reforming the process for getting emergency weight limit waivers.
Chris Spear, the president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, said during a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the "state of infrastructure and the supply chain" that these reforms could improve bottlenecks in the trucking industry and help attract more people into the field.
Labor availability and supply chain bottlenecks have been barriers limiting efficient flow of goods throughout several parts of the transportation sector over the last few years, including the trucking industry. Spears said that truck drivers spend an average of 56 minutes of available drive time per day parking early to avoid the risk of being unable to find authorized parking down the road.
He also cited a 2016 report that found that a lack of available parking for truckers costs the average driver around $5,500 in direct lost compensation per year.
"This is a safety issue, not just to our drivers — men and women. It's also a safety issue for the motoring public," Spear said of the lack of parking spaces. I'm out there driving my car, my family, my kids. I don't want to tangle with our members."
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act earmarked $477 billion in annual funding for surface transportation programs, including $351 billion for highways. The bill requires states to identify locations where truck parking shortages exist and the cause of the shortage at leach location, but does not specifically allocate money for truck parking expansion projects.
Insufficient lighting at parking spots has also prompted safety concerns for drivers, he said.
Spear said the current practice for allowing emergency weight limit waivers has "significant flaws." The current definition for a "national emergency" is too narrow in his eyes and the requirement of a presidential declaration slows the process greatly, he said.
The trucking industry has long expressed workforce shortage concerns. The ATA said in 2022 that there was a shortage of 78,000 qualified drivers and projects that shortfall will increase to 160,000 drivers in 2031 without any changes to the status quo.
The ATA has advocated for a reversal of the prohibition on 18-to-20-year-old drivers from transporting goods across states. Though the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act did include an apprenticeship program allowing 18-to-20-year-old drivers to operate in multiple states, Spear said the Transportation Department has been slow to implement the measure.
"It's like everything in this town — slower than we would like," Spear said on the implementation of the apprenticeship program. "I do think this program is going to bear fruit."
The hearing included testimony from railroad, trucking and port industry shareholders, who talked broadly about the status of the nation's supply chain crisis and ways to move forward.
The rail industry, according to Association of American Railroads CEO Ian Jeffries, is also facing workforce limitations, as companies continue to refill rosters they trimmed in 2020 due to drops in container traffic. Jeffries said that Class I railroad employment increased 6.8% from January to December of last year, however.
"We have been hiring aggressively over the past 18 months and we continue to hire in certain regions around the country, so we're still leaning into that and those efforts still continue," Jeffries said.
Roger Guenther, the executive director of Port Houston, asked legislators to put Federal infrastructure investments towards maintaining authorized depths at ports. Vessels continue to get larger each year and carry more cargo, he said.
"Ports most critical to the nation's economy should be prioritized for infrastructure investments," Guenther said. "If not, the nation's busiest supply chains are vulnerable to future disruption."
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