Senator calls on LaHood to augment federal role in freight mobility
May 31, 2012
In a letter to Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) stressed the need for America to have a “clear strategy to improve freight mobility and the movement of goods from farm and factory to market.”
The senator called on LaHood to establish a high-level and coordinated multimodal freight initiative at the U.S. DOT, which would report directly to LaHood and focus on federal freight policy, planning, and investment across all modes of transportation.
The federal freight initiative, wrote Cantwell, would be comprised of freight elements from all U.S. DOT administrations and charged with:
1-improving coordination and multimodal freight planning across all modes and U.S. DOT operating administrations;
2-assisting in the evaluation, cost-benefit analysis, and prioritization of proposed federal freight investments and loan programs and their strategic importance to the interconnected national freight network of highways, railways, waterways, seaports, and airports, including the national freight strategic plan included in Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21, the two-year, $109 billion transportation bill, which the Senate signed off on earlier this year);
3-facilitating coordinated freight corridor planning between state, local, and port entities, and private sector stakeholders;
4-identifying the unique process issues that arise in completing freight projects due to their public-private nature and creating an action plan to improve efficiencies; and
5-establishing a defined, meaningful and collaborative advisory partnership with private, non-profit, and public sector freight stakeholders in highway, rail, maritime, port, and aviation sectors.
“A high level freight initiative could eliminate duplication and ensure America’s federal freight priorities are coordinated across all modes, helping the nation to prioritize and focus our investments on projects that have the maximum benefit to the economy and taxpayer,” wrote Cantwell. “This initiative could also help alleviate the problem resulting from the fact that many freight projects are multimodal and sometimes require redundant approvals for a single project.”
The concept of a national freight policy has been broached myriad times in previous incarnations of transportation bills
The Senate’s MAP-21 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 and 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, among others.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Director of Transportation Infrastructure and head of its Let’s Rebuild America campaign Janet Kavinoky recently told LM that if the political process is able to move forward on a new transportation bill, an ideal situation would be for a bill that goes through at least September 2013 at current funding levels and includes policy reforms that both the Senate and the House were going to advance, including: speeding up project delivery, consolidating programs, streamlining the environmental process, focusing on freight, and doing more in the way of performance management and accountability.
In late March, the House and Senate signed off on respective bills to keep federal funding for surface transportation intact at current levels, through the end of June. Since the previous transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU expired in September 2009, funding has remained intact at the same levels due to a series of continuing resolutions that have been passed by Congress.
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