Truckers took advantage of a wide-ranging Senate hearing Tuesday to push for sustainable, user-fee based highway funding, federal support of advanced truck safety systems, free trade, and tax relief—topics that found a sympathetic audience in the Republican-led Commerce subcommittee on surface transportation. Some members, however, did express safety and modal competitiveness concerns regarding a renewed call for twin 33-ft. trailers and the development of autonomous truck technology.

In his opening remarks for the hearing on multimodal freight policy, Werner Enterprises Chairman Derek Leathers called for federal support for “a safe, uncongested, and reliable highway system,” with an investment focus on freight bottlenecks, as he emphasized the importance of trucking to the nation’s continued economic growth.

“The additional freight demand, combined with increased congestion, insufficient parking, and a patchwork of state regulations only add needless stress to our driver workforce and distract from the focus on safely and efficiently delivering our nation’s goods,” Leathers said.

While trucking supports “a variety of revenue sources to avoid over-reliance on a single option,” Leathers cautioned that higher user fees must be dedicated to programs that benefit freight movement on the highways. He said that increasing and indexing the federal fuel tax is the most efficient revenue source.

He also asked for help in solving a driver shortage for an industry that will need to hire 890,000 new drivers over the next decade.

“The industry and Congress need to collaborate to find workable solutions,” he said. His formal testimony offered specific recommendations:

  1. decrease significant CDL skills testing delays and wait times
  2. provide additional federal funds for driver training programs and removing barriers to students seeking federal aid to attend truck driving schools
  3. direct the Department of Labor to establish truck driving as a national in-demand occupation, which would free up resources devoted to filling vacant truck driving jobs
  4. implement the Entry-Level Driver Training rule; and
  5. require DOT to conduct a comprehensive study of efforts to streamline the licensing requirements between DOT and the Department of Defense.

He also credited the regulatory reforms included in the FAST Act—a push led by Subcommittee Chairman Deb Fischer (R.-NE)—for “improving coordination” between government and business.

FedEx Freight President and CEO Michael L. Ducker likewise emphasized the importance of funding an improved highway system, with sources to include an increased fuel tax, a vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) fee, and congestion pricing.

He also pointed to the importance of innovation, citing emerging technologies such as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications and autonomous vehicles, and said FedEx supports national uniformity in “reasonable and flexible guidelines.”

In terms of modernization, he called on Congress to review trucking equipment standards that haven’t been changed in more than 25 years. Specifically, FedEx “strongly supports” increasing twin trailer limits from 28 feet to 33 feet “with no, repeat, no change in the federal weight limit.”

“The highway networks are being overwhelmed with e-commerce,” Ducker said. “Twin-33 ft. trailers will make more efficient use of our existing infrastructure because it takes fewer trucks to haul the same amount of freight. Twin-33s are currently allowed in 20 states, and we have been operating them for many years without a single accident. They are safer than the current twin-28s. When widely adopted, twin-33s will improve safety, reduce congestion, reduce wear and tear on highways and bridges, increase productivity, save millions of gallons of fuel, and reduce billions of pounds of carbon emissions. That solution will result in near-instant infrastructure benefits with zero federal funding required. It’s a common sense policy solution.”