Dem Senator urges national freight initiative

By:  Daniel Strauss
Source: The Hill

A Democratic senator is urging Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to establish a "multimodal freight initiative."

In a letter to LaHood sent Thursday, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) calls for an initiative meant to streamline "the movement of freight and goods across our country."

"Strengthening the federal role in freight mobility can deliver system-wide benefits that will help our recovering economy better accommodate growing imports and exports," Cantwell writes in the letter. "In fact, the idea of creating one operating office to lead the coordination of intermodal freight was recommended by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO in June 2007, and further underscored by its February 28, 2012 report on Opportunities to Reduce Duplication, Overlap and Fragmentation, Achieve Savings, and Enhance Revenue.

"A freight initiative should aim to increase the Department's ability to prioritize and expedite projects without increasing staff numbers and expense, while still maintaining a strong commitment to environmental protections."

Cantwell suggests that the multimodal effort aim to improve freight planning and coordination, identify issues that apply specifically to freight projects and create "a defined, meaningful and collaborative advisory partnership" with stakeholders of rail, highway and other types of transportation.

Cantwell's letter comes as lawmakers conference to resolve differences between  a two-year $109 billion transportation bill from the Senate with two temporary extensions of the current highway funding levels approved by the GOP-controlled House. The legislation mainly focuses on highways.