Cantwell Amendment Would Prioritize Freight Mobility to Support Growing Trade Economy

Cantwell introduces amendment to surface transportation bill that would support national freight planning at U.S. Department of Transportation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged Senate support of an amendment to the surface transportation bill that would prioritize intermodal freight transportation infrastructure planning and development to support a growing trade economy. Cantwell’s amendment, introduced yesterday, would give freight transportation infrastructure and planning prominence within the U.S. Department of Transportation by creating an Office of Freight Planning and Development.

Cantwell’s freight amendment and her other freight provisions already included in the surface transportation bill draw on Washington state’s innovative freight mobility plan efforts as a model for the nation. Washington state is one of only a handful of states with its own freight mobility plan to guide the prioritization of investments.

Cantwell’s amendment would ensure that the many different entities involved in freight transportation infrastructure and planning, such as the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Railroad Administration, work together to plan and invest in the nation’s freight network as a whole.

Prioritizing freight mobility improvements is especially important to Washington state, which has one of the most robust export economies in the country and relies on multiple modes of freight transportation – including highways, ports, rail, and barge – to transport goods. In 2011, Washington state exported more per capita than any other state in the nation.

Statewide, the impacts from increasing competition and deteriorating infrastructure could be dire. For example, more than 27,000 jobs and $3.3 billion in economic output at freight-dependent industries could be lost in Washington state if truck congestion within the state increases by just 20 percent, according to a soon-to-be-released study by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“Efficient freight transportation infrastructure is the lifeline of our robust trade economy,” said Cantwell. “To keep up with demand and continue to create trade-related jobs, we need to invest in our freight infrastructure now. I urge my colleagues to support these key freight provisions, which would make freight infrastructure a national priority and support trade job growth.”

Two of Cantwell’s other freight priorities, originally part of the Cantwell-sponsored FREIGHT (Focusing Resources, Economic Investment, and Guidance to Help Transportation) Act, are also under consideration as part of the surface transportation bill. Cantwell introduced the FREIGHT Act last year with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).

Cantwell’s freight provisions included in the surface transportation bill would establish America’s first comprehensive national freight transportation policy to ready the nation’s freight transportation system to support economic growth and job creation, as well as develop a freight strategic plan that identifies emerging and long-term freight trends and prioritizes freight corridors to be improved.

In early January of this year, Cantwell visited three ports in Washington state – the Port of Seattle, Port of Pasco and the Port of Vancouver – to highlight local freight mobility improvement projects that would create jobs and make the movement of goods more efficient in and around the ports. Along the way, Cantwell called for Senate action on her key freight provisions.

Washington state is one of the nation’s top exporting states. In 2011, Washington state exported $64.6 billion worth of goods, which represents an increase of 21 percent over 2010. In 2010, more than 533 million tons of freight were moved in Washington – a number expected to grow by up to 86 percent by 2040. According to a 2008 DOT report, several Washington state cities already rank in the nation’s top 125 freight gateways handling international merchandise by air, land and water, including Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver, Blaine, Kalama, Anacortes, and Sumas.

Cantwell has long championed the role ports play in fueling job and economic growth in Washington state. Last December, she helped secure committee approval of key provisions of the FREIGHT Act. On January 9, 2012, Cantwell sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), urging him to bring up and encourage passage of these key freight provisions before March 31, 2012, when the current surface transportation reauthorization expires.

In August 2010, Cantwell met with Washington state port and transportation officials to discuss the importance of investing in a multimodal freight network to ensure the capacity exists to move goods and products more efficiently. In April 2010, Cantwell called for the development of a national freight mobility plan to back President Obama’s goal to double exports in the next five years.

In a letter to President Obama sent on April 29, 2010, Cantwell proposed adding the DOT Secretary to the roster of officials included in the President’s Export Cabinet, because of the critical role of transportation infrastructure in moving exports. In response to Cantwell’s letter, President Obama added the DOT Secretary to the Export Cabinet. And at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on April 29, 2010 – “Doubling U.S. Exports: Are U.S. Sea Ports Ready for the Challenge?” – Cantwell called for infrastructure improvements throughout the transportation supply chain, including road, rail and sea transportation, and for the removal of bottlenecks to rapidly increase exports.