The U.S. Transportation Department on Thursday officially started the Freight Policy Council which will focus on improving the condition and performance of the country’s freight network.
The council will develop a national intermodal plan for improving the efficiency of freight movement and will work with states to encourage development of a forward looking state freight strategy.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., joined Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for the announcement at the PCC Logistics Duwamish Facility in Seattle.
“Our freight system is the lifeblood of the American economy, moving goods quickly and efficiently to benefit both businesses and consumers across the country,” LaHood said. “With the launch of the Freight Policy Council, we have an opportunity to make not only our freight system, but all modes of transportation, stronger and better connected.”
The recent transportation bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21, signed by President Obama in July, established a national freight policy and called for the creation of a National Freight Strategic Plan. DOT’s Freight Policy Council will implement the key freight provisions of the legislation.
The council will be chaired by Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari, and will include DOT leadership from highways, rail, ports and airports and economic and policy experts from across the administration. The freight and logistics industries, consumers and other stakeholders will play an advisory role, and states will be asked to offer proposals for improving the freight system in their region.
“With increasing competition abroad, Washington businesses require a 21st century approach to moving goods,” Cantwell said. “This new Freight Policy Council provides the roadmap our nation needs to stay competitive and grow our trade economy.
“Smart freight planning is especially important to Washington state, where more than one million jobs are in freight-dependent industries,” she added.
Rep. Janice Hahn, founder and co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional PORTS Caucus, also applauded LaHood’s announcement of the Freight Policy Council's launch. “Ensuring the rapid and reliable movement of goods across the country is essential to our economy,” she said.
“When Secretary LaHood spoke with the Congressional PORTS caucus in June, I shared my firm belief that the United States needs a comprehensive national freight policy to remain competitive in the global marketplace," Hahn said. "An efficient goods movement network will empower American businesses to respond more nimbly to opportunities in the marketplace, and create jobs.
“That’s why I fought to have a national freight policy included in the recent transportation bill, and why I’m so pleased to see the Department of Transportation take this important step forward,” she said.
According to DOT statistics, each American is responsible for about 40 tons of freight a year. “A more efficient freight network will reduce traffic congestion, environmental impact and shipping costs, which will lead to lower prices for consumers,” the department said.
DOT continues to invest in freight through grant and loan programs. Over $953 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recover (TIGER) funds have gone to 50 projects that improve freight. More than a third of TIGER funding— $354 million—went to 25 port projects nationwide.
Freight projects are also eligible for the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) program, which provides up to $35 billion in loans and loan guarantees. Under MAP-21, freight projects can also qualify for $1.75 billion in Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) funding for the next two years.
Porcari and leaders from the DOT’s transit, highway and rail administrations on Wednesday attended a White House Business Council forum on transportation infrastructure and economic competitiveness along with representatives from industry.
The meeting included a briefing about the highlights of MAP-21 and financing opportunities through TIFIA, which provides credit assistance to projects of regional or national significance.
Business leaders at the meeting pressed the government to do more to maintain and upgrade infrastructure for all modes, including highways, bridges, airports, and inland waterways to make freight and commuter transportation more efficient for their operations and employees, Porcari said in a post to the DOT's Fast Lane