It’s no secret that our infrastructure is crumbling and desperately needs to be fixed. For the past 11 years, U.S. infrastructure has been rated a failing grade of “D+” — according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Unfortunately, the dilapidated state of our infrastructure is old news. What has changed, however, is the increasing cost needed to improve the system, which is now estimated to exceed $4.5 trillion. All the while, the costs we’re paying as needed improvements are delayed only add to the burden, including more maintenance on our personal vehicles and those that deliver our goods, higher fuel costs from time spent on badly congested highways, and the additional carbon dioxide emitted into the air we breathe with more vehicles on the road for longer periods.
While everyone agrees we need to fix our infrastructure, few agree on how to pay for it. As the argument continues, our infrastructure continues to deteriorate, serving as a brake on economic growth and job creation through increased costs for consumers and businesses. The poor condition of our roads and bridges is also a major safety concern for all of us who use them.
There is no doubt we must address our crumbling infrastructure, but it is not the only transportation issue we need to solve. Fortunately, there are simple actions that Congress and the administration can take now to protect the vibrancy of two industries that allow businesses across the country keep our economy moving: railroads and trucking.
America’s railways get the best grades among other infrastructure categories. Chemical distributors and countless other industries depend on reliable, competitive rail service to deliver products to customers in nearly every industrial sector.
Unfortunately, a lack of competition in freight rail combined with outdated regulations and a handicapped federal agency has led to unreliable delivery schedules, failure to provide statutory notice of fee changes, insufficient access to competitive switching and remedial options and inadequate rail customer service. One way we can address this is by advocating for the Trump administration to fill the remaining seats on the Surface Transportation Board, the regulatory agency in charge of freight rail. A more fully operational STB can make smart, common-sense rail policy changes to ensure competition and fairness in our nation’s freight rail system. This will lead to more timely and efficient deliveries and reduce costs and wastefulness across the system as Congress and the administration seek agreement on infrastructure funding.
Another area where we can make a needed change now is to address the severe truck driver shortage. The trucking industry is responsible for moving more than 70 percent of all freight in the U.S., and we are undergoing a severe shortage that is threatening to grind interstate commerce to a halt.
It is a well-known fact that our economy is short tens of thousands of truckers and that number is set to worsen to 174,000 by 2026, according to the American Trucking Associations. Fewer drivers means higher transportation costs for companies throughout the supply chain. And at the end of the day, consumers will end up paying more for their goods and services because of it. In order to expand the availability of commercially licensed drivers able to transport product across state lines, we need to support passage of the DRIVE-Safe Act. The DRIVE-Safe Act can help address the truck driver shortage by expanding the interstate commercial driving age to 18 and opening jobs to a new segment of the workforce, helping to ensure the stability of our nation’s trucking industry.
The chemical distribution industry has a vital and significant impact on the U.S. economy and is a critical participant in the large economic engine of our country that is being hampered by a crumbling infrastructure and unaddressed transportation challenges. We join industries across America in urging our lawmakers to fix those issues that can be dealt with in the near term, and to work across the aisle to adequately address our infrastructure challenges so that we are able to effectively and efficiently conduct commerce across the country in the years to come.
Eric R. Byer is president and CEO of the National Association of Chemical Distributors.
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