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Strong Transport Policy or Weaker Prosperity
Wednesday, 08 July 2009 00:00

The Freight Stakeholders Coalition has adopted 10 principles it feels will help strengthen the role of the US transportation system in ensuring better domestic prosperity and global competitiveness.

The US needs substantial investment in its freight transportation infrastructure or all modes of goods transportation will continue to deteriorate.

“We are committed to working together, with the Congress, the [Obama] Administration and other important interests, to develop the public-private consensus necessary to develop a freight transportation policy and program that will meet the needs of the nation.” The Freight Stakeholders Coalition has agreed to the following principles for the upcoming surface transportation authorization legislation:

Mandate the development of a National Multimodal Freight Strategic Plan. The next surface transportation authorization should mandate the development of a National Multimodal Freight Strategic Plan. The development of this plan should be led by the US Department of Transportation, in partnership with state DOTs, cities, counties, Municipal Planning Organizations (MPOS) and regional planning organizations, ports, freight shippers, freight carriers, and other stakeholders.

Provide dedicated funds for freight mobility/goods movement. The legislation should provide dedicated funds for freight mobility/goods movement. Dedicated funds should be provided to support capital investment in critical freight transportation infrastructure to produce major public benefits including higher productivity, enhanced global competitiveness and a higher standard of living for our nation. High priority should be given to investment in efficient goods movement on the most significant freight corridors, including investment in intermodal connectors into freight terminals and projects that support national and regional connectivity.

Authorize a state-administered freight transportation program. Congress should authorize a state-administered freight transportation program as a new core element of the federal highway program apportioned to states.

If a new freight trust fund is created, it should be firewalled, with the funds fully spent on projects that facilitate freight transportation and not used for any other purpose. Priority should be given to nationally and regionally significant infrastructure, with funds distributed through a competitive grant process using objective, merit-based criteria. Appropriate projects that are freight-related should still be eligible to compete for other federal funding sources.

Establish a multi-modal freight office within the Office of the Secretary. Freight mobility should be a key priority within USDOT. The Secretary’s office should have staff with freight expertise who can focus on nationally and regionally significant infrastructure.

Form a national freight industry advisory group pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act to provide industry input to USDOT, working in conjunction with the new multi-modal freight office. The advisory group should be funded and staffed, and it should consist of freight transportation providers from all modes as well as shippers and state and local planning organizations. Despite the best efforts of the agency to function as “One DOT,” there is still not enough of a focused voice for freight. An Advisory Group would meet the need for regular and professional interaction between USDOT and the diverse freight industry, and could help identify critical freight chokepoints in the national freight transportation system.

Fund multi-state freight corridor planning organizations. Given that goods often move across state lines and involve multiple modes of transportation, Congress should fund multi-state, multi-modal planning organizations that will make it possible to plan and invest in projects where costs are concentrated in a single state but benefits are distributed among multiple states.

Build on the success of existing freight programs. There are numerous existing transportation programs that facilitate freight mobility and are demonstrably valuable. A new national freight policy should continue and strengthen these core programs or build on their principles and successes to guide freight program development if DOT is restructured and/or program areas are consolidated. Examples of these successful core freight programs are the Projects of Regional and National Significance, National Corridor Infrastructure Improvement Program; Freight Planning Capacity Building Program; Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, National Cooperative Freight Transportation Research Program; Coordinated Border Infrastructure Program; Private Activity Bonds for Intermodal Facilities; Capital Grants for Rail Line Relocation Projects; Rail Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF); Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program, Truck Parking Pilot Program, and Rail-Highway Crossings. Funding for discretionary programs should be awarded through a competitive grant process.

Expand freight planning expertise at the state and local levels. Given the importance of freight mobility to the national economy, States and MPOs should be provided additional funds for expert staff positions dedicated to freight issues (commensurate to the volumes of freight moving in and through their areas). All states should have a freight plan as a tool for planning investments and for linking to the national freight system.

Foster operational and environmental efficiencies in goods movement. As in other aspects of transportation, improvements designed to achieve long term sustainability in goods movement are desirable to meet both commercial objectives—economy and efficiency—and public objectives—energy security and reduced environmental impact. Federal policy should employ positive approaches to enhance freight system efficiency and throughput with the goal of reducing energy consumption and green house gas emissions.

The Coalition includes: American Association of Port Authorities, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, American Trucking Associations, Association of American Railroads, Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors, Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, Inland Rivers Ports and Terminals Inc., Intermodal Association of North America, National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Regional Councils, National Association of Waterfront Employers, National Industrial Transportation League, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association, US Chamber of Commerce, Waterfront Coalition and World Shipping Council.

Logistics Today, 7/8/2009