Specifically, the bill, S. 3587, introduced last week by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., aims to improve the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program, also known as INFRA, which was created as part of Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.
“The American Association of Port Authorities strongly supports Senator Carper’s legislative initiative that repeals the multimodal cap on the discretionary grant program created in the FAST Act,” said AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle. “Sustainable multimodal funding is a top AAPA priority and the association greatly appreciates the senator’s work to advance legislation that is both timely and very much needed.”
Of the $11 billion of freight funding provided in the FAST Act, only $1.13 billion is multimodal eligible, and of that, only $200 million in multimodal eligibility remains available for INFRA grants, according to AAPA.
He added that since the FAST Act required states to complete state freight plans to receive additional FAST Act funding, 90 percent of states have complied. “This signals that states recognize the value of multimodal projects, and they recognize that ports are the linchpins for this activity.”
Cargo activities at America’s seaports are significant drivers of the U.S. economy, supporting more than 23 million American jobs and generating over $320 billion in annual federal, state and local taxes, according to AAPA, which said all but 1 percent of the nation’s overseas trade moves through its maritime facilities, and U.S. seaport cargo activities account for more than one-fourth of the nation’s gross domestic product.
Carper said the bill would support critical freight infrastructure by:
• Removing the cap on INFRA grants for multimodal freight projects.
• Ensuring that safety remains a priority for the INFRA grant program.
“Our economy relies on domestic and international freight making its way through our ports, railways and intermodal hubs, which serve as gateways to the global marketplace for American farmers, manufacturers and consumers,” Carper said.
“The economic importance of freight movement cannot be overstated, and our ports, railways and intermodal hubs are a critical part of the multimodal freight system,” he said. “Regrettably, as a country, we haven’t been making investments in our national transportation system that we need to.”
Carper said his bill would allow ports and railways to compete for more grant funding, which largely has been awarded to highway projects.
The Coalition for America’s Gateways (CAGTC) also endorsed the bill and said it supports Carper’s “call to remove the cap on non-highway freight investments as well as his commitment to increasing transparency in the evaluation and award decision-making process.”
CAGTC said non-highway projects can compete for just 11 percent of total INFRA program funding currently. “Increasing the program’s flexibility by making investments in the best freight projects, regardless of mode, will allow projects with the largest benefit to the goods movement network to be successful,” it said.
“To continue building confidence in the program, it is essential that USDOT disclose more information about its decision-making process to Congress and the public to produce a program that targets resources effectively and to affirm the integrity of the evaluation process,” CAGTC said.