FREIGHT Act of 2010 Could Offer Truck Traffic Relief

Last week Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ), Murray (D-WA) and Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the country’s first comprehensive freight bill that would fill the current policy vacuum surrounding federal investment in freight and port transportation projects.

The “Focusing Resources, Economic Investment, and Guidance to Help Transportation (FREIGHT) Act of 2010” would do the following:

  • direct the federal government to create and implement a national freight plan;
  • establish benchmarks and performance measures for  greenhouse gas reductions and air, water and noise pollution impacts on surrounding communities;
  • create a new Office of Freight Planning and Development within the Department of Transportation (DOT) that would coordinate efforts to improve the efficiency and operation of all modes of the national freight transportation system.

Currently there is no freight policy, program or dedicated transportation money at the federal level that can help states, regions or ports  improve operations at ports, intermodal facilities and freight corridors.  Existing funding formulas leave very little money for rail or other non-highway solutions to alleviate freight congestion, so when a state or port wants to improve efficiency and reduce delays, they’re often left with highway building as the only option.  There is also no accountability to make sure port spending actually results in decreased congestion, increased efficiency of freight movement, or reductions in air, water and noise pollution in surrounding communities.

The new bill lays out specific goals for federal freight spending and creates a new competitive grant program that would reward freight specific infrastructure projects that achieve the following:

  • Reduce delays of goods and commodities entering into and out of intermodal connectors that serve international points of entry on an annual basis.
  • Increase travel time reliability on major freight corridors that connect major population centers with freight generators and international gateways on an annual basis.
  • Reduce by 10 percent the number of freight transportation-related fatalities by 2015.
  • Reduce national freight transportation-related carbon dioxide levels by 40 percent by 2030.
  • Reduce freight transportation-related air, water, and noise pollution and impacts on ecosystems and communities on an annual basis.
While comprehensive in policy, the new freight bill does not specify funding levels needed to establish a national freight program or competitive grant program dedicated to freight infrastructure projects.   Freight and railroad trade groups, Environmental Defense Fund and Transportation for America have praised the bill as “a major shift in national transportation policy to support economic growth with targeted investment in efficient, clean, multimodal infrastructure for the movement of goods.”

The FREIGHT Act of 2010 is headed to the Senate Commerce Committee for “mark-up”, then next to the Senate Finance Committee where members appropriate funding to the bill.  Whatever the final dollar amount, one thing is clear – freight  is a critical component to advancing  balanced and sustainable 21st century transportation network.

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