Cantwell Helps Secure Committee Approval of Key FREIGHT Act Provisions

Port of Tacoma Commissioner: ‘It’s time the United States made the investments in our transportation system to ensure competitive freight corridors - and the jobs they create - are allowed to grow’ ***VIDEO AVAILABLE***

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) helped secure Commerce Committee approval of key FREIGHT Act provisions that would prioritize critical investments in freight transportation infrastructure to support a growing trade economy.

Introduced by Senators Cantwell, Patty Murray (D-WA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) in February, the FREIGHT (Focusing Resources, Economic Investment, and Guidance to Help Transportation) Act 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.

The FREIGHT Act provisions approved today 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. In addition to the FREIGHT Act provisions, Cantwell offered an amendment during the markup – which was also approved – that would create a new Office of Freight Planning and Development within the Department of Transportation that would make freight transportation infrastructure a priority­­.

Also approved today at the Commerce Committee’s surface transportation markup were the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Improvement Act, which includes important provisions supported by Cantwell in May 2010, and the Hazardous Materials Transportation Safety Improvement Act, which increases the maximum allowable civil penalties for hazardous materials transportation violations (from $50,000 to $75,000 for any violation and from $100,000 to $175,000 for one that leads to serious illness or death). The legislation applies to the transport of hazardous materials by rail, air, highway, and water.

“We want to maximize the amount of exports going out of the United States and to make sure that our systems are coordinated,” Cantwell said at today’s committee markup. Watch a video of Cantwell delivering her remarks at today’s markup. “The total national freight demand is expected to double from today’s level by 2050. And with this growth the infrastructure investment will be very critical to making sure we make the right decisions with our tax dollars to get the best value possible and the best economic impact for our country. … So a federal program that makes sure we are investing the right way and driving down costs by not having duplication is why we’re offering this amendment, Mr. Chairman.”

At today’s markup, Senator Lautenberg spoke in support of prioritizing freight investments: “I support Senator Cantwell’s amendment to establish an office of freight planning development. And I urge my colleagues to vote for this amendment. This amendment is taken from a freight policy that I originally introduced two years ago with Senator Cantwell. The new office will improve our freight transportation system performance by focusing resources on investments and help grow our economy.”

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 2010, Washington state exported over $53 billion worth of goods, making Washington state fourth in the nation for exports and third in the nation for exports per capita. Together, the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle comprise the third largest load center in the nation.

Commissioner Don Meyer of the Port of Tacoma wrote today in a statement: “The Port of Tacoma applauds Senator Cantwell for pushing for a vision of a coordinated, strategic national investment plan in our freight infrastructure. Washington ports are facing increased competition from Canadian ports and it’s time the United States made the investments in our transportation system to ensure competitive freight corridors – and the jobs they create – are allowed to grow in this country.”

“We are very pleased with Senator Cantwell’s leadership in fighting to include FREIGHT Act provisions in the Surface Transportation and Freight Policy Act of 2011,” said Larry Paulson, executive director of the Port of Vancouver. “These changes will greatly improve how freight and port infrastructure are prioritized and funded in the United States. We at the Port of Vancouver know firsthand how these changes will help our port continue to expand and create jobs. Thank you, Senator Cantwell.”

“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.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, several Washington state cities rank in the nation’s top 125 freight gateways handling international merchandise by air, land and water, including Seattle, Tacoma, Blaine, Kalama, Vancouver, Bellingham, Anacortes, and Sumas. Provisions of the FREIGHT Act would help Washington state grow its robust trade economy by making investments to modernize and improve the efficiency of Washington’s intermodal freight network, which includes ports, freight railways, air cargo infrastructure, highways, and pipelines.

In April 2010, Cantwell called for the development of a national freight mobility plan to support President Barack Obama’s goal – announced in January 2010 during his State of the Union address – 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. Cantwell, Murray and Lautenberg also introduced the FREIGHT Act during the 111th Congress on July 22, 2010.

High quality audio and video available upon request.