Senators hone in on a vision for new freight transportation policy

Senator Lautenberg is joined at Port Newark by officials from the Port Authority of NY/NJ to announce New Jersey priorities in the homeland security funding bill. Lautenberg became Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommitee on Homeland Security earlier this month. (July 20, 2010)

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By Jeff Berman · July 22, 2010

With an eye on creating a freight transportation policy that would ensure the country’s transportation system supports its global economic competitiveness, a group of senators led by Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced legislation today that would direct the federal government to develop and implement a strategic plan to improve the nation’s freight transportation system and provide investment in freight transportation projects.

Entitled the Focusing Resources, Economic Investment, and Guidance to Help Transportation Act of 2010 (FREIGHT ACT), the bill provides a platform to focus on the freight network that enables goods and commodities to be transported and reach their markets, as well as help the country reach its energy, environmental, and safety goals.

Among the bill’s objectives outlined by Lautenberg and co-sponsors Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) are:

  • to reduce delays of goods and commodities entering into and out of intermodal connectors that serve international points of entry on an annual basis;
  • increase travel time reliability on major freight corridors that connect major population centers with freight generators and international gateways on an annual basis;
  • reduce the number of transportation-related fatalities by 10 percent by 2015;
  • reduce national freight transportation-related carbon dioxide levels by 40 percent by 2030; and
  • reduce freight transportation-related air, water, and noise pollution and impacts on ecosystems and communities on an annual basis.

“We are long overdue in establishing a national freight transportation policy that will meet the economic and mobility demands of the 21st Century,” said Senator Lautenberg in a statement. “Poor planning and underinvestment in our transportation infrastructure has led to increased congestion at our ports, highways, airports, and railways, and increases the cost of doing business.  If we want to help U.S. businesses succeed and create new jobs, we need a freight transportation system that works better and can grow with the changing needs of the global economy.  This bill would put us on that path.”

This bill comes on the heels of a report published by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), which indicated that by 2020 the U.S. trucking industry will move 3 billion more tons of freight than it currently is hauling, which will require another 1.8 million trucks on the road to meet this demand.

And in 40 years, the report said that overall freight demand will double from today’s 15 billion tons to 30 billion tons by 2050, with truck and rail freight increasing 41 and 38 percent, respectively, from today’s levels.

And while the current surface transportation reauthorization is funded for the remainder of 2010, it is no secret that the long-term future of surface transportation funding is largely unknown, making this legislation potentially critical in gauging the nation’s long-term transportation infrastructure needs, as well as to help put a viable plan into motion.

“This is a landmark bill that links transportation policy with the most fundamental need of a vibrant market economy, providing the means of moving product to customers,” said Leslie Blakey, executive director of the Washington, DC-based Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC), on a conference call . “It also logically connects a number of other important policy goals together in a mutually supportive way.”

And while many freight-related interests have been pushing the importance of freight for the economy for several years, this bill is a broad-based approach that fully comprehends the importance of moving goods and how it is critical to moving the economy, noted Mort Downey, CAGTC Chairman, Senior Advisor, Parsons Brinckerhoff and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation.

Along with having a national freight policy, Downey stressed that there needs to be a means in which the federal government can invest in the facilities that will move goods at a time when President Obama has established a goal of doubling U.S. exports within the next five years.

“In order to do that and meet that goal, we need to expand the capacity of the U.S. transportation system, and we look forward to working with the members of the Senate to have this bill enacted either free-standing or as part of a broader free-standing transportation bill,” said Downey.

A major centerpiece of this bill is the call for a creation of a National Freight Infrastructure Grants Initiative, which would establish a new, multimodal, competitive, merit-based program to fund projects that will improve the efficiency of the national transportation system to move freight.

Types of projects that would be eligible for these grants include: a port development or improvement project, a multimodal terminal facility project, a land port of entry project, a freight rail improvement or capacity expansion project, an intelligent transportation system project primarily for freight benefit that reduces congestion or improves safety, and a project that improves access to a port or terminal facility.

“These grants would be an important new tool in the federal toolbox,” said Chuck Baker, president, National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association. “We believe it would help fund exactly the type of major multimodal, major jurisdictional, large transportation infrastructure projects that have historically been overlooked by the federal transportation investment bustle, because there has historically not been a home for those types of projects.

Baker added these projects would create long-term jobs in the freight transportation economy, which is crucial for shippers that use the freight transportation system that is dependent on a well-functioning transportation infrastructure system in the U.S.

The bill also calls for the creation of an Office of Freight Planning and Development within the Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation. This office would coordinate investment of federal funding and facilitate communication among government public and private stakeholders, and support the development of a national freight plan. 

About the Author

Jeff Berman
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. Contact Jeff Berman

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