Cantwell Calls for Passage of Freight Bill at Major Seattle Cargo Hub

Cantwell calls for Senate action to make freight jobs national priority

SEATTLE, WA. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) visited a local business near the Port of Seattle to call for passage of a Senate bill that would invest in Washington’s freight network and support job growth. This is Cantwell’s third stop on a Washington Ports Jobs tour. Cantwell was at the Port of Pasco on Monday and the Port of Vancouver Wednesday.

Speaking from MacMillan-Piper Inc. – a freight-moving company that is looking to expand and increase its business by 20 percent – Cantwell called for Senate action on key provisions of the Focusing Resources, Economic Investment, and Guidance to Help Transportation (FREIGHT) Act, which she introduced last year with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). Cantwell sent a letter Monday to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), urging him to bring up and encourage passage of these key provisions before March 31, 2012, when the current surface transportation reauthorization expires.

If enacted by Congress, the provisions would create 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.

In Seattle, this could pave the way for investment in job-creating projects like the I-5/SR509 improvement project that are integral to the Port of Seattle’s ability to move freight efficiently and continued growth. The project would improve freight mobility by adding nearly 19 new lane miles on I-5 from SeaTac to Federal Way and providing a direct connection into Green River Valley – the West Coast’s second largest warehouse distribution hub. The project is estimated to reduce truck traffic on I-5 by 15 percent and save truckers 11 minutes on trips in and around the seaport and Green River Valley.

We need to act now to support job growth at the Port of Seattle,” Cantwell said. “Freight transportation is the foundation of Washington state’s robust trade economy and supports tens of thousands of jobs, including roughly 200,000 jobs statewide supported by the Port of Seattle. But freight bottlenecks and deteriorating infrastructure plus increasing competition threatens future growth. I am urging Congress to take up my FREIGHT provisions so Washington state ports have the support they need to modernize.”

“Freight mobility is critical to our business and overall operation,” said Steve Stivala, President of MacMillan-Piper Inc. “Our customers will not accept nor tolerate delays or additional expense due to congestion. If they cannot move their goods on a consistent reliable basis, they will go elsewhere. A comprehensive national freight transportation policy, particularly for this region, is very important to our existence and competitiveness. Investment in infrastructure to improve freight mobility and the overall supply chain is not only desired but required if we are to ensure this country's global competitiveness.”

“I want to thank Senator Cantwell for highlighting just how vital freight movement is to Washington’s economy,” said Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani. “We must invest in our transportation system strategically, spending scarce dollars on projects that generate jobs and economic growth and move goods and people more efficiently.” 

If nothing is done to support the state’s freight network, 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.

Washingtonstate is one of the nation’s top exporting states. 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 U.S. Department of Transportation 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.

Ports like the Port of Seattle play an integral role in this network and support numerous jobs. The Port of Seattle supports 22,000 jobs at its seaport, over 110,000 jobs in King County and roughly 200,000 jobs statewide. The Port of Seattle moves nearly $33 billion dollars worth of cargo annually and in 2010, the port had its biggest cargo volume year with 2.1 million TEUs (Twenty-foot equivalent container units). The Port of Seattle has set a goal of generating an additional 100,000 jobs for the region in the next 25 years – and bringing an additional 1.5 million containers through their facilities would go a long way toward creating those new jobs. The Port of Seattle has the capacity to handle more freight, but investments in freight infrastructure are necessary to support this growth.

Cantwell has long championed the role ports play in fueling job and economic growth in Washington state.In December, she helped secure committee approval of key provisions of the FREIGHT Act. 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 Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT) 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.