Cantwell Applauds President Obama’s Proposed Freight Investment Program

Cantwell: ‘Important step towards a faster freight future’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded President Barack Obama’s proposal to create a $10 billion freight grant program for rail, highway and port projects around the nation. The President outlined the framework of the freight program as part of a proposed four-year transportation bill that he announced in a speech yesterday in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Obama’s announcement will build on the work of two key national freight strategy planning groups that Cantwell was instrumental in creating. Cantwell -- hailed by former U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Ray LaHood as ‘the freight senator’ -- has led the push for a national multimodal freight strategy that can guide future investment by identifying critical trade corridors, bottlenecks, and strengths and weaknesses in the nation’s freight network.

“Smarter freight investment is critical to keeping America competitive in a global economy built on efficiency,” said Cantwell, a senior member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. “President Obama’s proposal for a significant new freight investment program is an important step towards a faster freight future. Freight creates jobs: we know that well in Washington state, where 40 percent of jobs are tied to trade. 

“This program, which is similar to one we proposed in the FREIGHT Act, will build upon the planning work already being done at USDOT by the Freight Policy Council and National Freight Advisory Committee. I look forward to seeing the details from the President and working on freight mobility in the next surface transportation reauthorization. The time for freight mobility improvements in America is now.”

Cantwell called for the creation of a National Freight Advisory Committee in a May 2012 letter to former Secretary LaHood as part of the national initiative to improve freight transportation. Cantwell spoke at the Committee’s first meeting last June, marking a milestone in developing the first national freight plan to improve the movement of goods and boost the nation’s competitiveness in the global economy. 

The 47-member Committee is currently working on developing specific recommendations to the USDOT Freight Policy Council on how America’s freight network can better serve businesses, freight customers and shippers, and regions across the nation. Members are from outside of the federal government, serve two-year terms and are expected to meet at least three times per year.

The Committee is expected to work closely with the USDOT Freight Policy Council. In 2012, Cantwell worked with then Secretary LaHood to create the Freight Policy Council and task it with improving the condition and performance of the national freight network to strengthen the United States’ ability to compete in a global economy. Cantwell and LaHood announced the creation of the Council on August 23, 2012, at the Port of Seattle and the North Spokane Corridor in Washington state.

In her May 2012 letter to LaHood, Cantwell encouraged USDOT to consider the collaborative approach of the Washington State Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board as an example of successful freight coordination, prioritization and collaboration among many modes and diverse interests. Since the Washington State Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board was created in 1998, it has brought public and private interests to the table together to invest $112.7 million in partnership with other stakeholders to help complete 41 projects valued at more than $371 million.

President Obama’s proposal is similar to the FREIGHT Act (Focusing Resources, Economic Investment, and Guidance to Help Transportation) that Cantwell introduced in 2010 with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and former Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ). Provisions in their bill would have created a freight infrastructure competitive grant to invest in the most economically beneficial freight mobility projects and establish the nation’s first national freight transportation policy to identify freight bottlenecks and reduce delays and increase the system’s reliability.

Freight congestion and other bottlenecks already cost the nation approximately $200 billion per year. Today, every American is responsible for 40 tons of freight a year. A more efficient freight network will reduce traffic congestion, environmental impact and shipping costs, which will lead to lower prices for consumers.