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Senate is set to move forward with transportation bill

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
February 10, 2012

The Senate yesterday voted by an 85-11 margin to move forward with Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), its two-year, $109 billion transportation bill.

This bill, which would keep surface transportation funding at current levels, which would keep surface transportation spending at current levels, was signed off on by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) by an 18-0 vote in November.

MAP-21 vows to reauthorize U.S. transportation programs for two years at a cost of $109 billion and reform these programs to make them more efficient, according to EPW officials. They added that this bill is a “bipartisan effort that holds spending at current levels plus inflation, greatly increases leveraging of federal dollars, and modernizes and reforms the nation’s transportation systems to help create jobs and build the foundation for long-term prosperity.”

The bipartisan EPW bill, led by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate EPW Committee, and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the EPW Committee),  is comprised of various freight- and supply chain-related components, including:
-a National Freight Network Program that provides formula funds to states for projects to improve the movement of freight on highways, including freight intermodal connectors;
-a National Highway Performance Program that consolidates the Interstate Maintenance program, the National Highway System program and part of the Highway Bridge Program into a single program that focuses on the most critical 22,000 miles of roads in the country;
-a Transportation Mobility Program that replaces the current Surface Transportation Program but retains the same structure, goals, and flexibility to allow states and metropolitan areas to invest in projects fitting their needs and priorities, as well as provide a broad eligibility of surface transportation projects that can be constructed; and
-the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program which provides Federal credit assistance in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and standby lines of credit to finance surface transportation at favorable terms; and
-the Projects of National and Regional Significance Program, which authorizes a program to fund major projects of national and regional significance which meet rigorous criteria and eligibility requirements, and authorizes $1 billion for appropriation in Fiscal Year 2013.

Regarding the National Freight Network Program, the bill stated this is a core requirement, as the condition and capacity of the highway system has failed to keep up with the growth in freight movement and is hampering the ability of businesses to efficiently transport goods due to congestion.

It added that MAP-21 addresses the need to improve goods movement by consolidating existing programs into a new freight-focused program that provides funds to the states by formula for projects to improve regional and national freight movements on highways, including freight intermodal connectors.

“[This] vote to proceed with the surface transportation bill is a significant step in the right direction,” Boxer said in a statement. “The 85 votes in favor illustrate how much widespread support this job-creating legislation has. MAP-21 is truly a bipartisan bill, and I want to thank Senator Inhofe for working tirelessly with me on this legislation. I look forward to continuing to work with him and our other Senate colleagues to get to final passage as soon as possible.”

As reported by LM, the issue of how to adequately fund transportation bills is never far from the surface and it is no exception this time around. The American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) noted that in order for this bill to move forward, it is contingent on the Senate Financing Committee finding $12 billion in offsets to supplement projected Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenue. The HTF is funded primarily on revenue from gasoline tax, which has not been raised since 1993.

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee signed off on The Highway Investment, Job Creation and Economic Growth Act of 2012, which pledges to reauthorize and raise a total of $10.5 billion for the Highway Trust Fund. Committee officials said this bill is a companion piece to the Moving Ahead for Progress for the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and now will be folded into the larger transportation bill for Senate debate.

“We are glad a plan for a national freight program that was included,” said Leslie Blakey, Executive Director of Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC), in a recent interview. “Having language for projects of national and regional significance, which was written into law in SAFETEA-LU, incorporates a number of elements from the Department of Transportation’s TIGER program. From a freight point of view, this bill has a lot of positive developments.”

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, led by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) is calling for funding for the highway, transit, and highway safety programs at levels consistent with the amount of revenue being deposited into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), whose revenues are derived from the federal gasoline tax—which has not increased since 1993.

The current national surface transportation authorization, SAFETEA-LU, which is on its eighth extension at current funding levels since September 2009, expires at the end of March.

In late January, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, led by Chairman John Mica (R-FL), unveiled a five-year, $260 billion transportation bill entitled The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act.

The bill’s authors said that the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act is a long overdue infrastructure bill that reforms transportation programs and promotes increased domestic energy production to create American jobs.

The bill’s chief objectives include:
-authorizing approximately $260 billion over five years to fund federal highway, transit and safety programs, consistent with current funding levels;
- providing long-term stability for states to undertake major infrastructure projects;
-containing no earmarks, compared to the previous transportation law which contained over 6,300 earmarks;
- consolidating or eliminating nearly 70 federal programs
-calling for the funds collected for the improvement of the nation’s harbors to be invested for that purpose;
-eliminating mandates that states spend highway funding on non-highway activities;
-allowing states to set their own transportation priorities; and
-encouraging states to partner with the private sector to finance and build projects, among others.

From a freight perspective, the bill is calling on the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with interested public and private sector freight stakeholders, including representatives of ports, shippers, carriers, freight-related associations, state transportation departments, and local governments to develop a 5-year National Freight Policy.

This policy would specify goals, objectives, and milestones with respect to the expansion of freight transportation capacity and improving freight transportation infrastructure, as well as investing in freight transportation infrastructure to boost economic competitiveness, reduce congestion, increase productivity, improve and maintain existing transportation infrastructure so that it meets appropriate standards and improve its capacity to meet future demand. The policy also calls for increasing the usage and number of strategically-located multi-modal freight transportation facilities to reduce highway-related congestion and emissions.

Mica said last year that keeping surface transportation funding at its current levels through a series of continuing resolutions is not the way to move forward in an efficient manner, when it comes to preserving and building United States infrastructure.

A long-term bill, he said, is vital, as Congress cannot make long-term commitments with the ongoing extensions and short-term continuing resolutions.

“The reason we don’t have a six-year bill right now is that President Obama sent the message to me and [former House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman] James Oberstar that he was committed to a shorter bill. We need a long-term bill, and I am going to do everything possible to make that happen. We are committed to finding the needed funding.”

With the surface transportation extension expiring on March 31, 2012, Mica is also eyeing that date as a de-facto deadline to have a new bill signed into law, explaining that the country cannot wait any longer.

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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