National freight policy would result from Lautenberg bill

July 23, 2010
There may finally be a national freight policy enacted if a newly proposed bill makes its way through Congress. The legislation would direct the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) to develop and implement a “National Freight Transportation Strategic Plan” that would guide infrastructure investments for the movement of goods

There may finally be a national freight policy enacted if a newly proposed bill makes its way through Congress. The legislation would direct the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) to develop and implement a “National Freight Transportation Strategic Plan” that would guide infrastructure investments for the movement of goods.

The legislation also seeks to establish an Office of Freight Planning and Development, to be led by an Assistant Secretary. In addition, the bill calls for creating a “National Freight Infrastructure Grants” initiative. This was described as beinga competitive, merit-based program with broad eligibility for multimodal freight investment designed to focus funds where they will provide the most public benefit. The measure would also instruct DOT to develop baselines, tools and methods for the new Office within two years to measure the progress of freight planning and development efforts.

Dubbed the “Focusing Resources, Economic Investment, and Guidance to Help Transportation Act of 2010 (FREIGHT Act), the bill has been introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) with co-sponsors Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

“Poor planning and underinvestment in our transportation infrastructure has led to increased congestion at our ports, highways, airports, and railways, and increases the cost of doing business,” said Sen. Lautenberg in a statement. ”If we want to help U.S.businesses succeed and create new jobs, we need a freight transportation system that works better and can grow with the changing needs of the global economy.”

According to Parsons Brinckerhoff, chairman & senior adviser of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC),The FREIGHT a paradigm shift our CAGTC members have long advocated and represents a bold step toward ensuring our nation’s economic competitiveness in the 21st century.”

Brinckerhoff, a former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation, added that “for the first time ever the bill establishes a comprehensive freight policy with outcome-based goals and creates a broad multimodal, competitive freight–specific program to provide the infrastructure necessary to move this country’s commerce and drive the economy.”

Scott Belcher, president & CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) said the FREIGHT Act will “spur investment in new technologies to improve the efficiency, operation, safety and security of the nation’s freight network.”

Belcher pointed out the bill’s main goals reducing congestion and the resulting delays of goods, increasing the reliability of travel time on major freight corridors, and making freight transportation more efficient and better for the environment. Among other solutions, he noted, the FREIGHT Act would encourage investment in intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to reduce congestion and improve safety.

“With the demand for freight transportation expected to double by 2035, it is vital we address congestion and mobility around metropolitan areas and along America’s freight corridors,” said Belcher. He pointed out that “countries like Japan, China and South Korea” are already investing heavily in ITS technologies to modernize their transportation systems and improve their economic competitiveness. “The U.S. must make a similar commitment if we are to improve the efficiency, safety, and sustainability of our freight network while helping American businesses grow and create jobs,” said Belcher.

"Congress must modernize our outdated freight infrastructure to reduce its harmful environmental and public health impacts," remarked Kathryn Phillips, a transportation expert with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)."This important bill provides a roadmap to target federal investment to create a cleaner, more reliable freight system for the 21st century."

According to a news release issued by various groups already backing the bill, including CAGTC, EDF and Transportation for America, in developing the National Freight Transportation Policy, the FREIGHT Act also “encourages concurrent improvements in air quality impacts, carbon emissions, energy use and public health and safety by establishing environmental goals to complement goals for reducing delays and improving travel time reliability on freight corridors, at gateways and heavy freight population centers.” They also said that, similarly, the grant program sets criteria “to prioritize projects that improve freight mobility and enhance economic growth, while incentivizing environmental improvements.”

Clearly not wanting the bill to be perceived as a pork-producer, the proponent groups also said that “System performance is emphasized throughout the FREIGHT Act and projects will be judged on benefit-cost analysis. The significant overlap among public and private interests in the freight system is recognized through encouraged planning and cooperation with private sector interests, while the grant program leverages Federal investment by promoting non-Federal contributions to projects.”

Courtesy of CATG, the proposed FREIGHT ACT can be viewed by clicking here.

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