Highway bill includes freight corridor program

The recently passed six-year, $325 billion Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act (STRR) includes $4.5 billion per year for a national freight network in the United States.

The proposed legislation is now in conference committees as the House and Senate work to produce a compromise piece of legislation.

The recently passed House version designates certain highways as part of a national freight network and creates a grant program for nationally significant freight and highway projects beginning with $725 million in the 2016 federal budget year and increasing over two years to $750 million a year.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx says the future of the economy rests on a strong transportation system to move materials and products. U.S. DOT’s National Freight Strategic Plan offers specific policy proposals and solutions to address the growing challenges of moving freight in the U.S. Foxx says the plan is an essential step for continuing to support the nation’s economy through the efficient movement of goods, while recognizing and responding to future infrastructure challenges.

“With an increasingly competitive and complex global marketplace and a deteriorating transportation infrastructure that is unfortunately showing the effects of age and underinvestment, the need for us to have a national freight plan could not be more urgent,” said Foxx.

U.S. DOT reports that every day, millions of trucks, trains, aircraft, and ships move across the United States, transporting and delivering materials and products that are essential to our way of life and our economy. According to the most recent data released from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, freight shipments have been reaching all-time highs.

While this increase in freight traffic is good news for the economy, concerns remain that the U.S. infrastructure cannot accommodate continued growth: In the next 30 years the population of the United States is expected to grow by 70 million people, and freight traffic is expected to increase by 42 percent by 2040.

The Obama Administration is promoting the following strategies for the national freight corridor program:

  • Ensure dedicated freight funding: The plan emphasizes the importance of a dedicated freight program that would improve the movement of freight and meet regional economic demand and would require or incentivize State Freight Advisory Committees, State Freight Plans, and cross-jurisdictional/cooperative planning. 
  • Identify major trade gateways and multimodal national freight networks/corridors: U.S. DOT released a draft Multimodal Freight Network (MFN) map to inform planners, private sector stakeholders, and the public about where major freight flows occur and where special attention to freight issues may be most warranted. U.S. DOT and the U.S. Department of Commerce have monitored and analyzed major trade gateways and freight corridors for decades, but the draft MFN combines the most critical modal components and shows the connections between them.
  • Facilitate multijurisdictional, multimodal collaboration and solutions: U.S. DOT will continue its work to support local, State, and interagency collaboration, including close cooperation with port authorities, private sector stakeholders, and agencies in Canada and Mexico; sharing best practices for freight planning; supporting advisory committees and public forums with stakeholders; and encouraging effective use of funding available at the national level.
  • Ensure availability of better data and models: U.S. DOT will continue to develop and deploy newer and more advanced freight data resources to the planning community and advance the measurement and analysis of transit times for different commodities from a multimodal, origin-to-destination perspective. Congress could enhance U.S. DOT’s authority to collect intermodal freight data by giving U.S. DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics the authority to assemble intermodal freight movement data under the Intermodal Transportation Data Program.
  • Improve safety and support the adoption of new transportation technologies: U.S. DOT is undertaking new and innovative efforts to improve freight transportation safety. The Department recently announced the formation of a National Coalition on Truck Parking to improve commercial driver safety. U.S. DOT will also efforts to adopt new and exciting transportation technologies, including autonomous vehicles that promise to allow for safer and more reliable freight transportation.
  • Develop the next generation freight transportation workforce: U.S. DOT is committed to promoting economic opportunity through high-quality transportation jobs as part of the President’s Ladders of Opportunity Initiative. Efforts include developing freight skills for State transportation agency and MPO staff through a growing body of resources and guidance on freight planning, and pushing for greater authority to develop workforce plans.

“Congestion on rails, surface streets, and at our ports costs businesses billions of dollars a year and gives an edge to competitors around the globe. The National Freight Strategic Plan means our major cities will be part of our national strategy to quickly move products through traffic congested areas,” said Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).