Cantwell: U.S. Economy Faces a ‘Freight Imperative’
New transportation bills must include dedicated funding for freight, Senator says in speech
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said America faces an economic imperative to improve the nation’s multimodal freight system and called for a dedicated funding source in the next federal surface transportation bill to pay for projects that would help trucks, trains, ships and planes more efficiently move goods.
Cantwell addressed a meeting of the National Freight Advisory Committee, a 47-member body of private and public sector leaders created to make recommendations on how to improve performance of the nation’s freight system. The Committee issued 81 recommendations this week in a report to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Cantwell said she planned to introduce legislation in the coming weeks that would adopt many of the Committee’s recommendations, and she iterated her support for a dedicated source of funding for multimodal freight in the next surface transportation authorization bill.
“Today, I want to make one thing clear: any new transportation proposal must include a dedicated source of funding for multimodal freight,” Cantwell said. “I will fight to ensure that dedicated freight funding is part of any new transportation reauthorization.”
Cantwell -- hailed by former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as ‘the freight senator’ -- has been a longtime supporter of freight mobility improvement legislation. She spearheaded the effort to develop a high-level freight mobility strategy that resulted in the formation of the National Freight Advisory Committee.
“Our nation’s economic competitiveness rests our out ability to move American-made goods efficiently. We can’t stay competitive in exports without a competitive freight policy,” Cantwell said. “For far too long our national freight policy has been an unpredictable, unsustainable guessing game about how, when and if our priorities will get funded. Only a reliable and consistent dedicated multimodal trust fund will help ensure freight projects get funded, creating American jobs selling American goods.”
Cantwell said she planned to introduce a bill that would do the following:
- Streamline permitting for multimodal freight projects.
- Require strong, multimodal freight plans and local freight advisory committees in all 50 states.
- Invest in multimodal freight projects at key bottlenecks and critical “first -and-last-mile connectors” on critical trade corridors.
- Give USDOT the resources it needs for advanced multimodal freight flow research to ensure we are investing in the right places.
Cantwell’s 2012 letter to former Secretary LaHood calling for a high-level and coordinated multimodal freight initiative within the U.S. Department of Transportation helped result in the creation of the National Freight Advisory Committee. In the letter, she urged USDOT to develop a plan focused projects that have the maximum benefit to the nation’s freight network, economy and taxpayers.
The efficient movement of freight and goods is vital to Washington state, where 40 percent of jobs are tied to trade. 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 would reduce traffic congestion, environmental impact and shipping costs, which would lead to lower prices for consumers and keep American farmers and manufacturers competitive in the world marketplace.
Below are excerpts of Cantwell’s prepared remarks to the National Freight Advisory Council.
On America’s ‘Freight Imperative’:
“America has what I like to call a ‘Freight Imperative.’ It is the imperative that has you all sitting here in this room.
“The global middle class today is 2.3 billion people. Over the next 20 years, it will double to 5 billion. That means 2.7 billion new middle class consumers. Selling American made products and goods to those new customers is a great economic opportunity for our nation.
“But, make no mistake, the competition will be fierce. Getting American products – whether it’s airplanes, automobiles or wheat and apples – on the shelves of stores and in the hands of those customers is one our competitive challenges. That’s why our nation has a freight imperative.”
On need for freight funding:
“There has been a lot of discussion here in D.C. about how to fund our nation’s transportation. That’s an important discussion – and one we need to resolve to provide certainty for the American transportation system.
“But today, I want to make one thing clear: any new transportation proposal MUST include a dedicated source of funding for multimodal freight. It’s time to say goodbye to the days of freight being the red-headed stepchild of transportation policy.
“I will fight to ensure that dedicated freight funding is part of any long-term transportation reauthorization. Our nation’s economic competitiveness rests our out ability to move American-made goods efficiently. We can’t stay competitive in exports without a competitive freight policy.
As you said in your recommendations: “Consistent and reliable funding is critical to the nation’s global competitiveness and the health of the U.S. economy.”
“For far too long our national freight policy has been an unpredictable, unsustainable guessing game about how, when and if our priorities will get funded. Lurching from funding crisis to funding crisis hurts an industry that relies on well laid plans and long construction projects.
“Only a reliable and consistent dedicated multimodal trust fund will help ensure freight projects get funded, creating American jobs selling American goods.
On 21st Century freight
“Speed is critical in the 21st Century. Our transportation system moves more than 52 tons of freight, worth nearly $46 billion, every day. That is almost 40 tons of freight per person per year. Forty tons worth of packages from Amazon, food to grocers, spare parts for your refrigerator, a new car from Detroit. That amount will grow 62 percent by the year 2040.
“Moving all this freight is a job creator. The freight transportation industry makes up 11.7 percent of U.S. economic activity. So how will we keep our freight and goods moving with all the congestion and new volume that will bring?
On international competition
“Our competitors are investing – they are ensuring transportation systems are in good repair, they are investing in key bottlenecks so goods keep moving. Canada spends 4 percent of its GDP on transportation investment and maintenance. China spends 9 percent.
“The U.S. spends only 1.7 percent.
“In 2008, transportation experts determined that we need to spend at least two-hundred and fifty-five billion per year – including money dedicated for freight – to keep the system in good repair and make needed upgrades. Because without the right freight investments, we will not reap the economic benefits.”
On why investing in freight matters
“Seventeen metropolitan port complexes are responsible for moving over 91 percent of all goods by value in America. Think about that. Freight policy and investment has to ensure those 17 port complexes are functioning efficiently. Without efficiencies, we will lose out to other countries.
“And away from those centers – in rural areas, in inland ports and multimodal centers, we need to ensure we have a transportation system that can send and receive those products from the distant coasts.”
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