By TIM ALEXANDER
PEORIA, Ill. — The five-year, $305 billion surface transportation bill recently signed by President Barack Obama offers a plethora of provisions beneficial to agriculture, according to lawmakers and ag industry professionals.
Topping the list is a non-transportation rider that restores some $3 billion in funding for federal crop insurance that was snatched away by the Bipartisan Budget Act passed last month.
House Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway (R-Texas) praised the House speaker and majority leaders for their roles in repealing the provision as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act conference report.
“I strongly commend House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for their leadership in ensuring that crop insurance continues to be available, affordable and accessible to America’s farmers and ranchers,” Conaway said. “By including language in the Highway Bill conference report to fully repeal a provision that was designed to kill crop insurance, the Speaker and the Majority Leader are working to keep their promise to me and to all of rural America.”
The National Grain and Feed Assoc. (NGFA), which represents more than 1,050 grain-related companies, issued a statement praising the myriad benefits to agriculture and transportation in the bill, including regulatory relief measures, policies that improve freight movement and the restoration of crop insurance funding.
“We applaud lawmakers’ efforts in putting together this legislation that is vital for rural America, as well as to the economic well-being of the entire country,” said Max Fisher, NGFA director of economics and government relations.
Fisher and NGFA expressed disappointment that their “priority provision” – one that would have allowed six-axle trucks to transport up to 91,000 pounds on interstate highways – was not part of the final bill.
The association was pleased with the inclusion of a provision that permanently removes an hours-of-service rule for drivers of livestock and poultry, that required 30-minute breaks after eight hours of service, which they said resulted in unnecessary discomfort for animals during transport.
In addition, NGFA is grateful for the port performance statistics program in the legislation. “Keeping track of port performance data, at least at the nation’s busiest ports, should help draw attention to the damages of port disputes before they impact the entire supply chain,” Fisher said.
Overall, NGFA and others are praising H.R. 22 for establishing a long-needed national highway freight policy with the express goal of strengthening U.S. economic competitiveness.
“Repaving miles of interstate and building new bridges are major construction projects that directly employ thousands of workers,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.). “After years of short-term patches, this five-year reauthorization allows states to plan for big infrastructure projects with certainty that they’ll have the resources to see them through.”
Freight transportation infrastructure dedicated funding will receive an unprecedented $10.8 billion boost through the bill, according to the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC).
“The FAST Act reflects many of CAGTC’s long-held positions, including a minimum annual investment of $2 billion dedicated to freight infrastructure,” said CAGTC executive director Elaine Nessle.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx noted the “long winter of uncertainty” for state departments of transportation ended with the passage of H.R. 22. “Under the act, funding will go up by roughly 11 percent over five years,” he said.