Senator Joins in Push for US Freight Plan

By:  Mark Szakonyi
Source: The Journal of Commerce

Sen. Maria Cantwell urged the Department of Transportation Thursday to create a multimodal national freight transportation plan, an initiative DOT Secretary Ray LaHood pledged to take on shortly after taking office.

The letter from the Washington senator comes as major transportation groups urge Congress to order the DOT to create a plan that would help shippers more efficiently import and export. Shortly after taking office in 2009, LaHood said creating a national freight plan was a priority, and a working draft of such a plan was even temporarily available on the DOT Web site.

“Americans need a smarter and more efficient approach to freight policy that is strategic about our position as a competitor in the worldwide marketplace and the need for an improved nationwide network that supports job growth long into the future,” said Cantwell, of Washington.

She pointed to Washington’s Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board as an example of how planning can focus investment toward a freight network involving highways, railroads and ports. Planning is needed, she said, because freight congestion in Washington state is expected to grow by as much as 86 percent by 2040. National freight congestion cost the U.S. roughly $200 billion annually, and freight volume is forecast to grow about 27 percent by 2040.

“The development of freight policy, funding proposals and project plans, and the oversight of freight investments must all be done on a mode-neutral basis with careful attention to both public and private sector interests,” said Mortimer Downey, former DOT deputy secretary and chairman of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors.

The Senate’s two-year, $109 billion surface transportation bill has language requiring the DOT to designate a freight network of the most crucial 30,000 miles of roadway. Although rail and waterway lanes would be considered, the focus would be on highways.

Through the Senate plan, the DOT would get about $2 billion for each of the two years to spend on road building, including on arteries connected to the designated network, environmental mitigation, and railway and highway construction. Up to 10 percent of the financing, which would be drawn from state formulated funding, could be used toward freight rail and maritime projects.

Transportation groups, including CAGTC, hope the inclusion of such language in the final surface transportation bill will set the states up for a more expansive national freight plan.