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House T&I Committee begins push for surface transportation reauthorization

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
January 15, 2014

The push for new surface transportation reauthorization was evident during a House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee hearing yesterday, entitled “Building the Foundation for Surface Transportation Reauthorization.”

This hearing follows last October’s report from a House T&I Committee’s Panel on 21st Century Freight, which called for a major push to modernize freight infrastructure in the United States although the report lacked specifics on how to fund these efforts. And it also comes months before the current authorization, MAP-21, is set to expire at the end of September.

The panel, as previously reported in LM, recommended several bipartisan recommendations aimed at improving the efficiency of goods movement and strengthening the U.S. economy.

On the funding side, the panel said it was critical for lawmakers to address a $20 billion shortfall in surface transportation that will be facing lawmakers again next year. Funding for the nation’s highways and bridges is due to expire Sept. 30, 2014—five weeks before the important mid-term elections in which every House member is up for re-election.

The Panel recommended that Congress:
-authorize dedicated, sustainable funding for multimodal freight projects of national and regional significance (PNRS);
  -authorize dedicated, sustainable funding for multimodal freight PNRS through a competitive grant process and establish clear benchmarks for project selection;
-establish a national, multimodal freight policy and network as called for in Panel Member Rep. Sires’, D-N.J.,  MOVE Freight Act of 2013 (H.R. 974);
-ensure robust public investment in all modes;
-create an environment where private investment should be encouraged when possible and appropriate; and
-explore additional funding mechanisms. Sustainable freight revenue sources should be identified and evaluated by DOT and Congress prior to the next surface transportation authorization.

And it added that the current state of highway infrastructure “does not adequately serve” freight movements across the nation. “Not every community is located adjacent to a railroad, airport, waterway, or port, but a consumer good is almost invariably transported along the nation’s four million miles of highways and roads for at least part of its journey,” the report said. The panel also said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx should create a national freight multimodal policy with the Secretary of the Army and the Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. In a nod to intermodal interests, the report called for Congress to “ensure robust public investment in all modes of transportation on which freight movement relies,” not just highways.

At yesterday’s hearing House T&I Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) stressed that transportation is a critical part of how the supply chain functions and how raw materials get to factories, as well as allowing American businesses to be competitive in the global marketplace and for the economy to prosper and grow.

He added that the hearing served as the formal kickoff on the transportation reauthorization process, and in the coming months the committee will hold more hearings and roundtable discussions in an effort to give stakeholders the opportunity to share their respective policy priorities and concerns. And he explained that the committee hopes to take Committee action in the late spring or early summer with the goal to be on the House floor before the August recess, providing time to conference the House bill with the Senate’s bill.

“This bill needs to be a bipartisan effort. We need to build consensus and work together to get it done,” he said. “The next bill must ensure that our surface transportation system can continue to support the U.S. economy and provide Americans with a good quality of life. This bill is about providing a strong physical platform for U.S. companies to compete at home and abroad. It’s about making sure that Americans don’t waste countless hours sitting in traffic away from their families and friends. It’s about making sure that we can purchase the goods and services that we’ve come to rely on in our daily lives.”

The Coalition of America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC) applauded the House T&I Committee for commencing the surface transportation reauthorization process, and it called on the Committee to adopt the Panel on 21st Century Freight’s recommendations.

“We encourage the Committee to heed the bi-partisan call for investment in our nation’s multimodal freight infrastructure and include the Freight Panel’s recommendations in the upcoming surface transportation authorization,” said CAGTC Executive Director Leslie Blakey. “Findings by the Freight Panel represent six months of exhaustive research into the United States’ multimodal freight network. Proper execution of these recommendations is necessary to support manufacturing, jobs, and global economic competitiveness.”

In October, Blakey said that the Panel’s report was a “a huge step forward” and that the House T&I Committee has made a statement to the commitment 21st century freight growth has to freight transportation infrastructure in the United States and “they are intentionally raising the flag for the next reauthorization and for the Administration in a way we have not heard before. We are very excited about this.”
And Mort Downey, CAGTC Founding Chairman, said at the time that the report supports what freight interests have been saying for quite some time—that the economy really does rest on the freight system.
“This is really coming from the right people, members of the Transportation Committee, which is a diverse group on this panel and diverse in their political views and geography,” he said. “They have moved around the country and been to the ports and talked to the business community and are saying we need to take a bold step next year when this will be back on the agenda.”
While Downey admitted there are still issues to overcome regarding funding, he said “there is a fundamental agreement that freight is critical in our future, and we are happy to work with Congress and the Administration to get to the next steps.”
The fact that the report contained few specifics on how to pay for what could be a multi-year $300 billion surface transportation bill was not discouraging to veterans of past reauthorization battles.
“It is easy to say they should have come up with a way to raise the money to do this,” Blakey acknowledged. “But having walked those halls (of Congress) for many years and barely getting any acknowledgement [for freight investment] during that time that these things should be a priority and we should actually be spending more money from the federal side and now in a Congress that has been so bitterly divided about anything having to do with raising revenue can be bipartisan with a very diverse membership and be put together in six months’ time shows we agree there is a need to raise revenue and to also find that money. That is absolutely not something that anybody has been willing to say in all these years.”
Blakey said such concepts as distribution of capital through the competitive freight-specific grant program that focuses on and prioritizes projects of national and regional significance are “things that are all really different from what we have heard up until now. This is bold by these members of Congress to stand together and this is a result of networking and developing a degree of cohesiveness in the relationships they have developed over the last six months are going to form a foundation for writing a [new] bill. That means a lot.”

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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