Legislation submitted Tuesday in the House aims to ensure that planning for a national freight network by the Department of Transportation covers modes beyond highway transport.
MAP-21, the two-year surface transportation reauthorization bill enacted last summer, calls on the DOT to develop the nation's first freight strategy and identify arteries that comprise the national freight network as a guide for setting funding priorities. Congress tasked the DOT to designate a national freight network that was highway specific, but the Multimodal Opportunities via Enhanced (MOVE) Act offered by Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J., would expand the definition of the national freight network to include rail, navigable waterways, inland ports, freight intermodal connectors, and airports.
"With freight volumes expected to more than double by 2040 to nearly $40 trillion annually, it is imperative that our nation craft a strategic, all-inclusive freight policy that provides for the reliable, efficient, and safe movement of goods,” Sires said in a news release.
During a public briefing Tuesday about the department's progress on freight policy, DOT officials said they intend to use existing authority to look more broadly at the freight system as they put together the strategic plan and a report about the network's condition and performance.
“What we very much believe is essential is a systems approach toward moving freight. We can’t afford not to utilize every ounce of capacity in every mode given what’s coming at us in terms of demand," Greg Nadeau, deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, said.
Sires' bill, which is supported by five other lawmakers, would also create a National Freight Infrastructure Investment Grants program for things like port development, freight rail, intelligent transportation systems and other projects. The competitive grants would be awarded to projects that demonstrate high benefit-to-cost ratios in improving goods movement.
The grants provision essentially would give more permanence to the TIGER grant program that the Obama administration created in 2009 and through four rounds have provided grants to ports and freight rail projects that typically don't qualify for federal highway aid to states.
The Coalition for America's Gateways and Trade Corridors immediately endorsed the MOVE Act, saying it would strengthen the nation's multi-modal freight network. - Eric Kulisch