The U.S. Transportation Department on Tuesday took a couple of steps to advance freight transportation.
The National Freight Advisory Committee held its first meeting in Washington yesterday. DOT earlier this month selected 47 people from business, government, academia, labor and safety advocacy to provide advice and recommendations on how to improve freight transportation. Its initial mission will be to help the department come up with a national freight strategic plan as required by law and help DOT draft its version of what the administration wants in the next multi-year surface transportation bill to be debated during the next year. The current MAP-21 legislation runs for two years and expires Sept. 30, 2014.
The NFAC voted Ann Schneider, Illinois' secretary of transportation, to be chairman and Mortimer Downey, a former U.S. deputy secretary of transportation, as vice chairman. Downey also is chairman of the Coalition for America's Gateways and Trade Corridors, a group that lobbies for more federal support of freight infrastructure.
Meanwhile, DOT agreed to increase the amount of federal highway aid it will provide for a highway improvement in Indiana because the project has a direct benefit to goods movement. Under the MAP-21 legislation enacted last summer, DOT is allowed to increase its share of federal highway aid to 90 percent from the normal 80 percent if projects can be shown to increase the efficiency of freight transportation. The Indiana Department of Transportation can now use up to $207 million, an increase of $23 million from the 80 percent match, in federal funds to complete a $230 million upgrade of U.S. Route 31. It is the first project to take advantage of the new provision in MAP-21 increasing the flexibility of how federal funds are used for transportation.
The Route 31 corridor between Indianapolis and South Bend that is being rehabilitated carries 6,600 trucks per day, according to DOT.
The road will be upgraded to interstate standards and converted to a limited access freeway to improve traffic flow. The project involves 13 miles of new alignment, widening from four to six lanes and building nine new interchanges. - Eric Kulisch