Improving U.S. Freight Transportation System

By Eric Haun
Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation published its final report on United States freight transportation, offering an assessment of its current condition with recommendations for strengthening nationwide infrastructure and U.S. economy.

The panel, led by its Chairman, U.S. Rep John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-TN) and Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), was founded by Full Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Ranking Member Nick J. Rahall, II (D-W.Va.) in April 2013 to examine U.S. freight transportation, the role it plays on the nation’s economy and ways in which it may be improved, including financially, structurally and technologically.

The Freight Panel offered to Congress a list of suggestions to “safely and efficiently meet the needs of freight movement in the 21st century:”

  • Direct the Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with the Secretary of the Army and the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, to establish a comprehensive national freight transportation policy and designate a national, multimodal freight network;
  • Ensure robust public investment in all modes of transportation on which freight movement relies, and incentivize additional private investment in freight transportation facilities, to maintain and improve the condition and performance of the freight transportation network;
  • Promote and expedite the development and delivery of projects and activities that improve and facilitate the efficient movement of goods;
  • Authorize dedicated, sustainable funding for multimodal freight Projects of National and Regional Significance through a grant process and establish clear benchmarks for project selection. Projects eligible for such funding would have a regional or national impact on the overall performance of the multimodal freight network identified by the Secretary of Transportation;
  • Direct the Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of the Army, to identify and recommend sustainable sources of revenue across all modes of transportation that would provide the necessary investment in the Nation’s multimodal freight network and align contributions with use of, and expected benefit of increased investment in, such network; and
  • Review, working through the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Committee on Ways and Means, the Secretary’s freight funding and revenue recommendations and develop specific funding and revenue options for freight transportation projects prior to Congress’ consideration of the surface transportation reauthorization bill in 2014.


Though not much is remarkably new in the 104-page report, what is new is the more significantly unified, bipartisan Congressional support behind it. Freight infrastructure undoubtedly requires an up and down enhancement to advance its position in global trade markets, and the House now seems ready to back it. The renewed vision includes an open search for ongoing, sustained revenue sources to improve U.S. freight infrastructure across all modes.

Ports, harbors, rail, bridges, roads, etc. are all targets for improvement, but the question remains as to how infrastructural developments can be funded, and new taxes are not off the table. The Freight Panel remains optimistic that a solution will be reached. They believe it’s no longer a matter of if, but when a Congressional Bill is prepared.

 

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