A diverse coalition of 17 groups representing shippers, transportation providers and government agencies is calling for the creation of a cohesive national freight strategy as part of the six-year Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009, also known as the “Highway bill,” now up for debate in Congress .
At a news conference in Washington D.C., representatives of the Freight Stakeholders Coalition – comprised of organizations representing trucking companies, railroads, ports, shippers, and state department of transportation agencies – stressed that substantial investment in the freight transportation system must be given a high priority.
Without such investment, the speakers said the performance of all modes of shipping freight will continue to deteriorate and the U.S. will pay a high price in terms of domestic prosperity and international competitiveness.
“There is an awful lot at stake here and we’ve got to continue our efforts to elevate freight [needs] to a higher level in the debate over the reauthorization bill,” said Joni Casey, president &d CEO of the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA). “That’s why it’s so important for Congress to act now on the [reauthorization] bill and not revert to stop-gap funding.”
“Freight is an issue that should be at the top of the nation’s priority list – but it is not,” stressed Janet Kavinoky, director of transportation infrastructure for U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “No matter the differences among industries as to what needs the most funding, we all recognize 18 months is too long to wait to pass a reauthorization bill. What do we need more time for? There’s enough information out there about what we need to do to fill this room 10 times over.”
The Senate’s Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee approved by 18-1 an 18-month extension of federal highway programs from October of this year through March 2011. According to Kavinoky, that significant a delay indicates that freight issues are being pushed to the bottom of President Obama’s “to do” list as his administration strongly supported the move.
“The only thing we need time for is to make transportation and freight policy a priority,” she said. “The health care debate has sucked all the oxygen out of the room. But there must be time for us to work on more than one issue critical to our future. We’ve spent the last four years hammering out transportation and freight issues for this highway] bill – now it is time for us to multi-task.”
“States would love to get a bill done; we’re in favor of substantive transportation change, but want to do it thoughtfully while creating a stable source of funding for it,” said Allen D. Biehler, P.E.,
Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation and current president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).
“The key is to look at the entire freight ‘supply line’ with this bill and not just a single piece or mode,” he pointed out. “It’s important to remember that [freight] transportation involves inland and coastal waterways, ports, railroads, highways, and air cargo shipments. We often only think of the components of our transportation system separately; not as a whole. We need to spotlight the importance of our entire transportation infrastructure to our economy.”
That means focusing on developing freight projects with both regional and national significance that not only reduce congestion and enhance freight movement , but also reduce transportation’s impact on the environment while creating and maintaining jobs, added Mortimer L. Downey, who was Transportation Secretary during President Clinton’s administration and now is a senior advisor with PB Consult, Inc.
“We need to keep freight on the table because it is vital to the U.S. economy,” Downey said. “It’s the long-term opportunities we will fail to grasp if we do not pass a reauthorization bill. We need to prepare our transportation policies for the future.”