Cantwell Outlines Three Priorities for Infrastructure Investment at Commerce Committee Hearing

Cantwell highlights megaprojects like the I-5 Bridge, West Seattle Bridge, North Spokane Corridor; freight infrastructure investment; highway-rail at-grade crossings

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the U.S. Senate ramps up its consideration of needed infrastructure investments, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, outlined three of her main priorities at a hearing she convened to examine surface transportation infrastructure needs in communities throughout Washington and around the country.

“We live in an ever-increasing global economy, where more than 95% of consumers live outside our borders. That means American workers and businesses need world-class infrastructure to reach customers, and we need to be competitive,” Cantwell said. “Instead, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the United States infrastructure a rating of C-minus. So, we definitely need to improve that grade. Right now, the United States only invests 0.7 percent of our GDP in transportation infrastructure. Other countries are investing up to eight times that amount, and the United States needs to make more investments if we are to remain competitive.”

“Three things are very clear,” Cantwell continued. “One, Congress must provide funds to invest in megaprojects that are important to our nation and to regional economies. For example, in my state, the I-5 bridge replacement between Vancouver and Portland, the West Seattle bridge repair, or the North Spokane Corridor, which is a major transportation hub of moving product from Canada through the United States and on to other destinations. All three of these projects are significant regional projects that mean a lot to our nation's economy.”

“Second, we've already seen that freight and infrastructure programs have helped our economy be more economically efficient, but more needs to be done. If we can ease the congestion on our roadways, and at rail crossings, and our ports, it only helps our economy grow.”

“Third, I believe we need to do more on helping at-grade crossings, particularly because of rail congestion… These delays are really causing concerns. In my hometown, Edmonds, Washington, a train blocked the only access on the waterfront for three hours. This required first responders to literally crawl through the rail cars to aid a pregnant woman who was due to give birth.”

In the State of Washington, there are 2,180 at-grade crossings of active rail lines located on public-use roadways. A 2017 study identified the 50 highest-priority crossings. The Lander St. Bridge project was completed last year, but most of the other highest-priority at-grade crossing projects still need to be designed or funded.

Cantwell has consistently prioritized surface transportation infrastructure in Washington and throughout the country. Last year, she, along with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), secured a $73.6 million grant for the Puget Sound Gateway Program. The grant was given to improve freight mobility and easing traffic congestion throughout the Puget Sound region. In 2019, Cantwell secured historic funding for Yakima County to help move 10 million tons of freight each year and improve road safety. Last week, she joined Senator Murray  and other colleagues in introducing legislation to provide relief for public transportation agencies, including Sound Transit, struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 A longtime champion of infrastructure investment, Cantwell created the nation’s first multimodal freight grant program in 2016 to deliver $5.5 billion to freight projects across the country. In the same year, she announced a $45 million grant to the City of Seattle for the South Lander Street project to eliminate congestion in Seattle.

 At today’s hearing, Cantwell also spoke about the importance of easing congestion at ports to ensure products can get to market: “We also need to help the serious congestion at our ports with containers. There are currently 26 ships anchored, idle, of the Port of L.A./Long Beach because they are not able to get to port. When ships are unable to get to port, too often foreign-owned carriers offload goods at American ports and then load up empty containers to go back to Asia, leaving U.S. exports behind. A recent investigation found between July and December of 2020, carriers rejected at least 1.3 billion in U.S. agricultural exports.”

Video from Senator Cantwell’s opening statement is available HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript is HERE.

Video from Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with the witnesses is available HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript is available HERE.