WASHINGTON-Despite the protests of labor unions and highway safety advocates, President Clinton signed a bill Nov. 27 designating nearly 160,000 miles of U.S. roads as the National Highway System (NHS). Enacting the NHS bill frees billions of federal dollars for their intended purpose of state highway construction and maintenance, but it is best known to the public for a provision that repeals the federal 55-mph speed limit.
The NHS bill also provides significant relief for manufacturers of crumb-rubber-modified asphalt and for auto repairers who also perform auto emissions tests in decentralized state programs.
The bill creates a compromise on asphalt rubber, and prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from penalizing states with decentralized emissions inspection programs.
Under Section 1038 of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, states were required to use increasing amounts of asphalt rubber in federally funded highway projects. Highway officials in many states, however, complained rubberized asphalt was an unproven technology.
The last two Transportation Department bills forbade the Federal Highway Administration from using any of its funds for promoting or enforcing Section 1038.
The NHS bill repeals Subsection (d) of Section 1038, which was the state procurement requirement. It retains other subsections, however, which allow FHWA grants to states for research and technology transfer in asphalt rubber.
It also calls on the FHWA to develop performance grade classifications for rubberized asphalt within 180 days of enactment.
Asphalt rubber manufacturers and their crumb rubber suppliers were relieved at achieving a favorable outcome for their products after years of struggle.
``Our industry is pleased that Congress has chosen to encourage states to use crumb-rubber-modified asphalt with incentives rather than penalties,'' said Timothy Baker, president of Baker Rubber Co. and chairman of the Rubber Pavements Association.
As for the emissions inspection issue, the NHS bill forbids the EPA from applying a 50-percent emissions reduction discount under the Clean Air Act to states that allow decentralized testing. The agency also cannot require states to use the high-tech, test-only IM240 inspection program.
Furthermore, the EPA must grant 18-month interim approval to states' good-faith estimates of emissions reduction credits.
States can make their Clean Air Act implementation programs permanent if they can produce data showing their emissions reduction estimates are accurate.
These provisions are a victory for repair shops that have invested thousands of dollars in emissions testing equipment, said Roy E. Littlefield III, government relations director of the American Retreaders Association.
Safety spokesmen objected to the NHS bill because it repeals the federal speed limit and eliminates a program encouraging state mandatory motorcycle helmet laws.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a Washington coalition, said enactment of the NHS bill could cause 6,400 deaths and $19 billion worth of damage annually.
The Teamsters union also protested provisions exempting trucks weighing 10,000 to 26,000 pounds from federal truck safety rules-leaving the drivers of nearly 2 million trucks without federal safety protection, the union said.