January through March: a quarterly review

Can you believe we’re almost through the first quarter of the year? It feels like we were just ringing in the New Year. Lots has happened in the trucking industry, so here’s your rundown of some of the biggest events in trucking so far in 2019.

JANUARY

A Polar Vortex slammed the north central and northeastern U.S.

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A Polar Vortex, a mass of frigid air that usually circulates in the Arctic, slammed parts of the U.S. with wind chill at some places dipping into the negative 30s to 60s.  At that windchill, frostbite sets in on exposed skin in just five minutes… that’s cold, y’all! 

 Along with closures of schools and businesses, these extreme temperatures created conditions that stalled deliveries and caused carriers to take extra precautions to protect sensitive freight. 

Major supply chain players felt the Polar Vortex’s frigid force, as the U.S. Postal Service canceled mail deliveries around Chicago and Cincinnati. Amazon.com Inc. had to close Chicago-area delivery stations and FedEx Corp. warned customers of potential delivery delays, according to published reports.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D – Or.) began his tenure as the U.S. House Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

DeFazio began his tenure in January with two specific goals in mind: launching investigations into the Trump administration and finding long-term solutions for the nation’s infrastructure package. 

He has pledged to continue to prioritize freight-related issues. Over the next two years, the new chairman said he plans to focus on improving connectivity along key freight corridors and conducting oversight of major trucking policy issues.

After a record-breaking 35-day budget impasse, the government shutdown finally ended

From December 22, 2018-January 25, 2019, more than 800,000 Federal employees were affected by the shutdown, and 420,000 of them worked without pay. Over-the-road freight transportation wasn’t hit too hard, according to Transport Topics

Freight remained flowing, ports and weigh stations were still operational, the Federal Motor Carrier Administration was still up and running, and the Federal Highway Administration remained funded.

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However, the shutdown was felt in other areas. About 93% of the National Transportation Safety Board’s 397 employees were off the job, forcing the suspension of almost all accident investigations and preventing officials from determining whether future probes of specific crashes were necessary.

According to DAT, Federal rules, including drivers' Hours of Service and the ELD exemption for livestock haulers, were put on hold when the budget wasn’t approved.

FEBRUARY

In his State of the Union address, President Trump called on "parties to unite for a great rebuilding of America's crumbling infrastructure"

Although President Donald Trump made it clear in his State of the Union address that infrastructure investment is “a necessity” for our D+ roads and bridges, many were left wanting more details about his game plan for solving issues like traffic congestion and road conditions, among others.

In this year’s address, President Trump’s focus was a call for unity to accomplish infrastructure improvements, emphasizing his willingness to cross party lines to make it happen.

FMCSA’s medical certification process fell under scrutiny

An uptick in truck-involved fatal crashes and instances of fraudulent truck driver medical certifications spurred a Department of Transportation Inspector General audit of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s medical certificate program.

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According to a Feb. 20 memo to FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez from Barry DeWeese, assistant inspector general for surface transportation audits, the DOT’s objectives with this audit are to evaluate FMCSA’s procedures for:

· oversight of its medical certificate program, including commercial driver medical certificate data quality

· validating information in its National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners

The American Transportation Research Institute released their annual list of top 100 truck bottlenecks

ATRI’s 2019 Top Truck Bottleneck List considers the amount of congestion trucks face at 300 different trouble spots on the nation’s highways.  

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With 13 sites, Texas was the state with the most truck bottlenecks. According to the press release, the intersection of I-95 and SR 4 in Fort Lee, New Jersey sits on top of ATRI’s list as the Number One freight bottleneck in the country. The rest of the Top 10 includes:

  1. Atlanta: I-285 at I-85 (North)

  2. Atlanta: I-75 at I-285 (North)

  3. Los Angeles: SR 60 at SR 57

  4. Houston: I-45 at I-69/US 59

  5. Cincinnati: I-71 at I-75

  6. Chicago: I-290 at I-90/I-94

  7. Nashville: I-24/I-40 at I-440 (East)

  8. Atlanta: I-20 at I-285 (West)

  9. Los Angeles: I-710 at I-105

FMCSA formally ended its driver diabetes exemption program

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Feb. 21 formally announced the immediate end of its exemption process for the medical certification of insulin-dependent truck and bus driver, according to Transport Topics.

In a Federal Register announcement, the agency said diabetic drivers who possess a medical card will need to renew, and those seeking a medical card in the future will be certified to drive only if they get a green light from an agency-certified medical examiner.

January/February Class 8 Sales up from last year

U.S. Class 8 retail sales for February rose 19% compared with a year ago to 19,858 vehicles, according to WardsAuto.com, with demand remaining strong. This was the highest volume for any February since 2006.

MARCH

Policymakers got back to work

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After a weeklong spring recess, policymakers returned to Capitol Hill to continue working on the provisions for a comprehensive infrastructure bill they want to pass by August.

Their ongoing debate on infrastructure policy is likely to coincide with partisan fights over transportation funding priorities, as well as floor votes on key DOT nominees, according to Transport Topics.

President Trump’s budget boosts funding for major freight projects

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Delivered to Congress on March 11, President Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget request proposes increasing funding for federal trucking regulators. The Department of Transportation would see a decrease, but FMCSA would receive $288 million for safety operations and programs, and $387 million for safety grants. 

Trump’s request increased some from the fiscal 2019 level of $284 million for safety operations and programs, and $382.8 million for safety grants.

Spring flooding could be an issue 

The deluge that devastated so much of the Midwest over the last week could be a preview for one of the worst years for flooding in the United States, according to federal weather officials.

Now flooding is occurring at St. Joseph, Mo., with waters there forecast to crest more than 2 feet above major flood stage March 22, and reach near-record levels at Atchison, Kan., on March 16. The Missouri River and its tributaries escaped its banks last week after a major storm dumped heavy rain on melting snows.

 Average price of diesel dropped after four weeks of consecutive increases

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Last week, the U.S. average retail price of diesel dropped 0.9 cents to $3.070 a gallon, according to the Department of Energy, even as crude oil prices broached the $60 mark for the first time in four months.

The national average price of diesel is still 9.8 cents more than it was a year ago, when the price was $2.972, DOE said after its March 18 survey of fueling stations.

The decrease was the first drop in price after four weeks of consecutive increases in the average weekly diesel price, totaling 11.3 cents. But average prices for diesel, trucking’s main fuel, did not decline in every region. Prices rose the most in New England, up 1.7 cents to $3.200 per gallon.

 


Looking ahead to the rest of 2019, you can count on us at the PDQ Transmitter to keep you informed about trucking news and updates. If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to share this post and subscribe for more great content!