DOT aims to deliver freight policy in early 2013.
The Obama administration hopes to complete development of a national freight policy early next year when Congress is expected to begin debating a long-term surface transportation plan that authorizes how money is spent and sets federal policies, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told an audience of air freight stakeholders gathered in Atlanta early this month.
Last summer, President Obama signed a two-year bill that provides $105 billion for federal transportation programs over two years. Provisions of interest to the freight transportation sector would reform how programs are structured and administered and how infrastructure projects are approved so they can get built faster, maintain grant funding for key transport corridors, fund more road freight projects and better monitor freight flows on the nation's highways.
In his speech to The International Air Cargo Association, LaHood made the case that the surface transportation bill and TIGER grants for transit, road, rail and port improvements benefit air cargo because they make the overall network work better.
The big sticking point for any new transport funding bill will be how to pay for it, which is why the current Congress could not agree on anything longer than a two-year bill this time.
In August, LaHood formed an inter-agency Freight Policy Council to develop a national freight policy and strategic plan, as called for in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) legislation.
LaHood said he wants to set up an industry advisory group to provide input to the Freight Policy Council. It will try to complete its work by early next year, he added.
"I think we'll be well positioned to tell Congress what needs to be done and how much money it will cost," LaHood said.
How the election will impact the secretary's timetable is unclear. Nothing ever gets done in Washington as quickly as promised and the DOT has tinkered for years with the idea of developing a national freight plan without getting far. Congress has raised the urgency with its request for a plan, but it may take a bit longer than the first quarter to draft a freight policy.
LaHood addresses his future.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he would have to talk with President Obama about whether to continue in his post beyond 2012.
Responding to a question following his address to TIACA, LaHood said: "I have considered this the privilege of a lifetime. When I was elected to Congress I thought that was a great job. This is a better job because you can actually get stuff done.
"After the election, I'm going to sit down with the president and figure it out," he said.
"And if the other fellow wins I think I'll probably be walking out the door, even though I'm a Republican."
A year ago, LaHood was quoted as saying he would only serve one term, regardless of how the election turns out, but had not informed Obama about his decision. - Eric Kulisch