Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a long-time advocate for freight investment, plans to sponsor a bill that would support greater development of freight infrastructure as part of a long-term renewal of surface transportation programs. She also reiterated her support for a dedicated funding source for freight projects, which have typically been subject to limited ad-hoc grants.
Cantwell told the National Freight Advisory Committee, a 47-member body of private and public sector leaders convened by the Department of Transportation, that her bill would adopt many of the 81 recommendations the group made last week to improve the nation's freight system.
The pro-freight legislation would:
- Streamline permitting for multimodal freight projects
- Require all 50 states to have strong multimodal freight plans and freight advisory committees
- Invest in multimodal projects on key trade corridors to relieve congestion and provide better connections between ports, intermodal hubs, airports, highways and rail networks
- Provide the DOT resources to research freight flows that will help determine where investments will have the most benefit
"It's time to say goodbye to the days of freight being the red-headed stepchild of transportation policy. I will fight to ensure that dedicated freight funding is part of any new transportation reauthorization," Cantwell insisted, according to excerpts of her speech posted on her website. “Our nation’s economic competitiveness rests on our ability to move American-made goods efficiently. We can’t stay competitive in exports without a competitive freight policy. For far too long, our national freight policy has been an unpredictable, unsustainable guessing game about how, when and if our priorities will get funded. Only a reliable and consistent dedicated multimodal trust fund will help ensure freight projects get funded, creating American jobs selling American goods.”
Cantwell hails from a state where exports are a major part of the economy; the state boasts two major ports in Seattle and Tacoma, as well as the Sea-Tac international airport. The ports, which are served by major Class I railroads, are gateways for agricultural products from the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. Freight volume in Washington is projected to grow 86 percent by 2040.
Nationally, the transportation system will also have to deal with at least a 60-percent increase in freight volume over the next 30 years, experts say.
Cantwell noted that freight transportation is responsible for almost 12 percent of GDP.
"Speed is critical in the 21st century. Our transportation system moves more than 52 percent of freight, worth nearly $46 billion, every day. That is almost 40 tons of freight per person per year. Forty tons of packages from Amazon, food to grocers, spare parts for your refrigerator, a new car from Detroit ... ," she said. "Our competitors are investing — they are ensuring transportation systems are in good repair, they are investing in key bottlenecks so goods keep moving. . . . Without the right freight investments, we will not reap the economic benefits."
The National Freight Advisory Council was established under the 2012 MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century) transportation bill that expires Sept. 30. Cantwell was an early proponent of a freight office within the DOT to better coordinate freight planning and assist jurisdictions with developing freight infrastructure, aided by a freight-focused panel of stakeholders.
The NFAC recommendations
addressed ways to overcome statutory, regulatory, institutional, financial and technical barriers to improved freight system performance, as well as ways to improve the freight network and mitigate community impacts. The recommendations dealt with areas such as funding, streamlining project delivery, safety and security, intermodal research, and inter-agency policy coordination. The group called for a new dedicated freight fund aimed at first-and-last-mile connectors and projects of national significance.