Cantwell Urges USDOT to Launch Freight Initiative to Ready U.S. for Trade Growth
WA state freight expected to grow by up to 86 percent by 2040
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urging him to launch a comprehensive freight initiative at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). The initiative would raise the profile of freight mobility in order to coordinate and improve federal freight policy, planning and investment across all modes. The initiative would also help to eliminate duplication and focus attention on freight projects that have the maximum benefit to the nation’s transportation network, economy and the taxpayer.
The efficient movement of freight and goods is especially important to Washington state, which exported more per capita last year than any other state in the nation. 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. But congestion threatens this growth – and the jobs and economic opportunities that come with it. Freight congestion and other bottlenecks already cost the nation approximately $200 billion per year.
“I urge you to move forward on the development of a high-level and coordinated multimodal freight initiative at the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve the management of freight programs, investment, coordination, and planning,” Cantwell wrote in the letter. “Americans need a smarter and more efficient approach to freight policy that is strategic about our position as a competitor in the worldwide marketplace and the need for an improved nationwide network that supports job growth long into the future.”
The freight initiative would improve coordination and freight planning across all USDOT operating administrations. It would help evaluate and prioritize proposed federal freight planning and investments based on their strategic importance to the nationwide freight network. It would also establish a collaborative advisory partnership with private, non-profit and public sector freight stakeholders to provide input and guidance on federal freight efforts.
“As the Congress and the Administration move towards reauthorization of surface transportation, we have to better recognize the importance of freight investments for national economic growth. USDOT should refocus how it approaches the freight community. The development of freight policy, funding proposals and project plans, and the oversight of freight investments must all be done on a mode-neutral basis with careful attention to both public and private sector interests,” said Mortimer L. Downey, former Deputy Secretary of USDOT and Chairman of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors. “It’s time USDOT establish a permanent freight initiative that can interact with industry, draw on current expertise within DOT agencies, and add the skills and knowledge unique to meeting freight needs. I’m pleased to strongly support Senator Cantwell’s request to USDOT.”
In her letter to Secretary LaHood, Cantwell also encouraged USDOT to consider the Washington State Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board as an example of successful freight coordination, prioritization and collaboration among many modes and diverse interests. The board brings together representatives of the trucking, railroad, maritime, and port industries with state and local government stakeholders. The board evaluates and prioritizes proposed freight projects, improves the statewide freight network and, in close collaboration with Washington State Department of Transportation, identifies strategic highway, rail and maritime freight corridors.
“Despite their differences, the many modes and stakeholders on the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board work together in Washington to create a better multimodal system that addresses deficiencies in roadway, rail and port goods movement corridors,” said Karen Schmidt, Executive Director of the Washington State Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board. “This model works to prioritize strategic freight corridors and find solutions to move goods that are cost effective and, through our leveraging requirement, provides a good use of taxpayer money. Bringing this successful model to the federal level and further improving freight mobility at USDOT is a welcome step forward.”
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. Nationwide, it is expected that the volume of freight in the United States will grow by 27 percent between 2010 and 2040.
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 the surface transportation bill. The bill, which passed the Senate on March 14th, included many of the freight provisions Cantwell championed. These include the creation of a national freight policy and a new strategic freight plan to help identify and prioritize freight investments. The Senate-passed surface transportation bill is currently being negotiated with the House-passed version in Conference Committee.
Last December, Cantwell helped secure Commerce Committee approval of these key freight provisions, which 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 freight provisions were originally part of the Cantwell-sponsored FREIGHT (Focusing Resources, Economic Investment, and Guidance to Help Transportation) Act, which she introduced in February 2011 with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).
Cantwell has long championed the role ports play in fueling job and economic growth in Washington state. 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.
The full text of the letter sent today follows:
May 31, 2012
The Honorable Ray LaHood
Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, D.C. 20590
Dear Secretary LaHood:
Today I’m writing about an issue of mutual interest – the efficient movement of freight and goods across our country. As you know, nationwide across all modes, freight is projected to grow by up to 27 percent from 2010 to 2040. And in my home state of Washington – gateway to the American Midwest and a critical route for U.S. exports – freight is expected to grow by up to 86 percent over the same period. But our nation’s potential freight growth is hampered by bottlenecks: congestion already costs about $200 billion a year – a number that could grow unless we take action.
Considering this projected growth and the associated job and economic costs due to existing inefficiencies, America must have a clear strategy to improve freight mobility and the movement of goods from farm and factory to market. To do so, I strongly encourage you to establish a high-level and coordinated multimodal freight initiative at the U.S. Department of Transportation using your existing administrative authority. If established, this initiative office should report directly to you, include a special assistant designated with specific responsibility for freight movement, and endeavor to improve federal freight policy, planning, and investment across all modes.
Strengthening the federal role in freight mobility can deliver system-wide benefits that will help our recovering economy better accommodate growing imports and exports. In fact, the idea of creating one operating office to lead the coordination of intermodal freight was recommended by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in June 2007, and further underscored by its February 28, 2012 report on Opportunities to Reduce Duplication, Overlap and Fragmentation, Achieve Savings, and Enhance Revenue. A freight initiative should aim to increase the Department’s ability to prioritize and expedite projects without increasing staff numbers and expense, while still maintaining a strong commitment to environmental protections.
I would suggest that this high-level and coordinated multimodal freight initiative be comprised of freight elements from all the U.S. Department of Transportation administrations and be specifically charged, under existing authorities, with:
1) Improving coordination and multimodal freight planning across all modes and U.S. Department of Transportation operating administrations.
2) Assisting in the evaluation, cost-benefit analysis, and prioritization of proposed federal freight investments and loan programs and their strategic importance to our interconnected national freight network of highways, railways, waterways, seaports, and airports, including leading the development of the national freight strategic plan included in Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.
3) Facilitating coordinated freight corridor planning between state, local and port entities and private sector stakeholders.
4) Identifying the unique process issues that arise in completing freight projects due to their public-private nature and creating an action plan to improve efficiencies.
5) Establishing a defined, meaningful and collaborative advisory partnership with private, non-profit, and public sector freight stakeholders in highway, rail, maritime, port, and aviation sectors.
A high-level freight initiative could eliminate duplication and ensure America’s federal freight priorities are coordinated across all modes, helping the nation to prioritize and focus our investments on projects that have the maximum benefit to the economy and taxpayer. This initiative could also help alleviate the problem resulting from the fact that many freight projects are multimodal and sometimes require redundant approvals for a single project. The proposed freight initiative could assume a coordinating role among various offices, reducing costly repetitious work while upholding our obligation to the environment.
Our freight network has many critical partners in both the public and private sectors. As vested interests in a well-functioning system, these partners are in the best position to assist in the search for ways to create efficiencies and leverage federal resources in the freight corridor planning process. In light of this, one goal of the high-level freight initiative should be to create a defined advisory partnership to bring all freight sectors to the table to gain from their diverse experience, connectivity needs, and economic roles. Many freight projects are completed through public-private partnerships so it is important that private sector organizations are able to collaborate to share information and counsel.
A high-level freight office has the support of industry stakeholders such as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The American Association of Port Authorities has stated that the creation of a freight office “represents an opportunity for a great deal of consolidation and process streamlining among the various agencies that work together to move freight.” The Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors writes that “providing for an office dedicated to the nation’s multimodal goods movement is a vital and long overdue step forward.” Further, the Freight Stakeholders Coalition’s surface transportation reauthorization platform calls for establishing a new multimodal freight office, an industry advisory group, and for increasing the emphasis on multimodal and corridor freight planning. The Coalition represents a diverse set of shippers, public transportation entities, and private freight transportation providers nationwide.
Additionally, bringing more focus to the federal role in freight will help the United States address the competitive challenge our ports and other freight stakeholders are facing from Mexico and Canada. Canada’s decision to elevate the importance of freight mobility is part of the reason behind the emergence of Canadian ports as serious competition for U.S.-bound cargo.
I strongly encourage you to look to the Pacific Northwest as one example of successful freight coordination, prioritization, and collaboration. In Washington state, our Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board (FMSIB) has brought together representatives of the trucking, railroad, maritime, and port industries with state and local government stakeholders to forge an innovative and equal partnership to promote freight mobility – a partnership that recognizes the need to improve our freight network as a whole, and not just focus on any single mode. It is my hope that any administrative initiative to improve our freight network recognizes that our many modes of transportation must work together to speed goods to market in cooperation with the public, private, and non-profit sectors.
Part of the reason that freight priorities have been successfully addressed in Washington state is the collaboration between FMSIB and the Washington State Department of Transportation in identifying the strategic highway, rail, and maritime freight corridors. Active engagement with stakeholders has helped this collaboration plan improvements to the network and identify bottlenecks needing attention and improvements to benefit the movement of goods.
I urge you to move forward on the development of a high-level and coordinated multimodal freight initiative at the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve the management of freight programs, investment, coordination, and planning. This initiative should tear down bureaucratic barriers and inefficiencies to better coordinate policy and strategic investments across all modes, recognize the meaningful and collaborative input of private, nonprofit, and public-sector freight stakeholders, and support the National Export Initiative. Americans need a smarter and more efficient approach to freight policy that is strategic about our position as a competitor in the worldwide marketplace and the need for an improved nationwide network that supports job growth long into the future.
United States Senator
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