For the past two years, April has marked the month in which we have published an exclusive study looking at how builders choose and evaluate their suppliers. It's interesting to note that both of these surveys, the Builder Revolution (2003) and the Big Builder Study (2004), both identified timely, reliable delivery to the jobsite as the most important criteria for builders when choosing a supplier. Of course there are many factors that determine whether or not loads arrive as scheduled, but unfailing transportation, which is dependent on both equipment and infrastructure, is one of the most critical variables in the on-time delivery equation. Therefore, ensuring your ability to efficiently transport materials should be a top priority for your company going forward.

Transportation issues were at the forefront last month during the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association's (NLBMDA) annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., where Annette M. Sandberg, administrator of the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), asked dealers nationwide to put their support behind reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act (TEA), which would sanction appropriations from the Highway Trust Fund through the 2009 fiscal year. The TEA, which currently is on an extension due to expire May 31, provides funding for highway programs, related research and technology, and education. “The states desperately need this act because it is what funds highway construction projects,” Sandberg said.

The act also funds safety programs administered by the FMCSA, which was established as a separate administration within the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2000 to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. Overall, according to the latest data available, more than 43,000 people died on the highways in 2003. That's the equivalent of one 737 airplane full of passengers per day, Sandberg pointed out. Of those fatalities, 5,000 can be attributed to the commercial motor vehicle sector, in which only 48 percent of the drivers currently are wearing seat belts, according to a study by FMCSA. (In comparison, overall seat belt usage across the country is now at 80 percent.) “We are committed inside the Department of Transportation to reduce all fatalities by 41 percent from the period 1996 to 2008,” Sandberg said, noting that all industries must play a role in helping to achieve this goal.

So how can you help in these efforts? In the case of the TEA, contact your legislators and ask them to support reauthorization. To improve safety on the roads, make sure your fleet drivers follow FMCSA regulations and buckle up behind the wheel. And, if you need help getting up to speed on the latest transportation issues, NLBMDA can help you set the wheels in motion. The organization currently is leading a charge to help create and disseminate information and training materials on federal interstate trucking regulations through an alliance with FMCSA, the first partnership of its kind between the administration and an industry sector. NLBMDA also has joined Americans for Transportation Mobility (, a national coalition formed to support current and future improvements to the country's transportation infrastructure.

According to estimates from NLBMDA, our industry currently operates a collective fleet of more than 75,000 trucks, while FMCSA predicts that freight volume will swell by 50 percent over the next 20 years. Most of this increase will be in the trucking sector, according to the agency, which means that the LBM industry's reliance on delivery fleets is sure to grow in tandem. Considering that we already are in a capacity crunch characterized by driver shortages, regulatory compliance issues, and high fuel costs, we all need get on the fast track now to improve highway safety and pave the way to keep future deliveries on schedule.

Lisa Clift, Editor