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As a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) is at the forefront of the nation’s transportation system. He sat down with Road King magazine to share his thoughts about highway funding and his efforts to improve the safety of the nation’s highways.
Q In July you introduced the Safe Roads Act of 2011 — legislation that keeps drug-abusing drivers from operating large trucks. Can you tell us more about that legislation?
A Commercial drivers play a critical role in our nation’s economy by keeping our freight and people moving. This legislation closes a loophole that is unfortunately exploited by some drug-abusing commercial drivers. When drivers are tested for drugs and alcohol use, the results are not stored in a central database. Drug-abusing drivers are able to hop from one trucking company to another, ignoring past “positive” drug and alcohol test results and refusals. This means the hiring manager could potentially hire a driver who has not been evaluated, treated and cleared to return to duty by a substance abuse professional. This legislation ensures responsible drivers — not drug-abusing drivers — are the ones in line for jobs and ensures the roads are safe for everyone.
Q What are your top priorities as you work toward a final Highway Bill?
A It is critical for Congress to enact a six-year reauthorization of the bill, rather than two years, in order to provide the necessary certainty for state DOTs and contractors. That would allow state DOTs and contractors to schedule long-term, large-scale projects, hire more workers and expand existing small businesses.
Another reason it is imperative that we embrace a six-year reauthorization is that a two-year reauthorization makes it less likely that states will use federal dollars for an infrastructure project. In the case of a two-year reauthorization, states are more likely to put a greater portion of their funds into a reserve account rather than obligate them to an infrastructure project. This helps state DOTs protect themselves from major project disruptions caused by delays in reauthorization, but it also reduces spending for new construction.
These problems make plain the need for a long-term, six-year reauthorization. While no one is pleased by the funding level proposed in the House, the House long-term reauthorization is preferable to the two-year Senate version that bankrupts the Highway Trust Fund and does not provide the necessary certainty to state DOTs and small businesses.
Q Why is it important for Congress to invest in infrastructure, such as road and bridge construction?
A Investing in essential infrastructure has one of the greatest multiplying effects on the economy. If the President invested in road and bridge construction with the trillion dollar stimulus, there would be far greater opportunities for job seekers everywhere. The infrastructure industry has the potential of rejuvenating the economy because it is so capital intensive and affects so many sectors of the economy. If there is one thing that government should invest in during this time of incredibly dire straits, it is infrastructure.
Q How will you protect truckers from increases in the cost of doing business, such as tolls and taxes?
A My primary responsibility as a United States Congressman is to create the conditions to help private enterprises create jobs. By lessening the burden on employers, such as unnecessary regulations and taxes, they can focus on expanding their business and creating jobs.
I will always be vigilant to protect small businesses, like small trucking firms, from the government seeking to impose higher taxes on American job creators. When the government increases taxes, firms are forced to pass the cost on to their employees and consumers.
The views expressed in this column are those of the interview subject and do not necessarily reflect the views of Road King, its editors or affiliates of Road King.