Congress is joining U.S. DOT in committing more resources to a national freight plan, a more strategic way of moving goods than the current haphazard and fragmented current approach. As mandated by MAP-21, U.S. DOT is working on a strategic plan for a nationwide freight network, and last month, Congress kicked off its contribution, holding an inaugural hearing of the new, specially-appointed freight panel of the House Transportation Committee. At that first hearing, panel members heard from representatives of the trucking, freight rail, and shipping industries, as well as labor.
The Congressional panel on freight will be traveling the country over the next few months seeking input on the nationwide freight plan.
At the hearing, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) emphasized the need to develop a 21st century freight transportation system in a way that doesn’t prioritize highways over other modes.
“MAP-21 authorized some incentives to encourage states to develop highway freight plans… and required the Federal Highway Administration to designate a national freight network,” Nadler said. “There remains much work to be done to expand this vision to include all modes of transportation — highway, rail, water and air — to ensure that the resources are available to implement this vision.”
In the past, Obama administration officials have asserted some modal preferences in the “goods movement hierarchy.” Deputy Secretary John Porcari said in 2010 that “we want to keep goods movement on water as long as possible, and then on rail as long as possible and truck it for the last miles.”
Each panel witness provided recommendations guided by his own industry’s self-interest, and none offered a broad, multi-modal philosophy. There did seem to be general agreement on a few matters, primarily that the federal government has a role to play in funding major freight projects.
Fred Smith, president of FedEx, contended that regulations allowing bigger trucks would improve efficiency and environmental outcomes — an argument refuted by opponents who point out that bigger, heavier trucks will require more road maintenance and pose a greater danger on the roads.
Smith, like nearly all the other panelists, argued for more revenue.
“We need a funding mechanism in the form of a revised fuel tax or vehicle mileage tax, which the user community almost universally supports to fund additional infrastructure, particularly in the more congested parts of the country,” he said.