The special House Transportation and Infrastructure Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation released its findings and recommendations on Oct. 29, concluding that there is not sufficient investment in the system to meet the increasing needs of an aging surface transportation infrastructure.
The panel, chaired by Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.), with ranking Democrat Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), held roundtable discussions and traveled across the country to evaluate America’s freight transportation network. The panel’s report identifies challenges facing the system and impediments to efficient transportation of goods in and out of the United States.
While most consumer goods are transported on a truck for at least part of the journey, the report found that freight rail provides efficient long-haul and short-haul service and integrates closely with the trucking industry. No matter how goods are transported, the report says that many goods must be produced overseas. More than 75 percent of all U.S. international freight moves by water. U.S. waterways carried an equivalent of more than 100 million truckloads of goods last year. Although the Harbor Trust Fund has a positive balance, the lack of appropriated funding has resulted in deferred maintenance of federal channels that serve coastal ports. More than half of America’s locks and dams are more than 50 years old.
According to the report, air cargo is the fastest way to ship goods over long distances and air freight is high-value cargo. Less than 3 percent of total freight by weight ships by air, but this represents more than $6.4 trillion worth of goods per year, which is nearly 35 percent of all freight value. The report found that 10 percent of the nation’s freight movement, by tonnage, travels through pipelines, which are mainly energy commodities. Pipelines carry nearly two-thirds of the country’s energy supply.
As a result of the many findings contained in the report, recommendations of the panel to safely and efficiently meet the needs of the freight movement in the 21st century, include:
- 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, multi-modal 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.
- 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’s consideration of the surface transportation reauthorization bill in 2014.
The report does not make specific funding recommendations. When Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) was asked about this he replied, “I don’t think it’s a punt. The president has talked about funding transportation for five years. Nobody in his administration has come forward and given their recommendations on how to fund it.”
NSSGA is continuing to work with its coalition partners to ensure support for both the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as they grapple with identifying sufficient funding mechanism(s) to meet the needs of America’s vast multi-modal transportation system.