Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New Freight Policy Council to Improve Multimodal Cargo Throughput

LaHood Answers Critics with New Initiative
Shipping News Feature

US – Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last week announced the launch of the Freight Policy Council which will focus on improving the condition and performance of the national freight network to better ensure the ability of the United States to compete in today’s global economy. The council will develop a national, intermodal plan for improving logistics connections and the efficiency of freight movement and will work with individual states to encourage development of a forward looking state freight strategy.

The latest moves go some way to answer criticisms that the Government lacked a cohesive freight policy made last year by the CEO’s of such companies as BNSF and the Port of Seattle who felt that whilst Canada forged ahead, investing in intermodal terminals and freight rail projects, the US rested on its laurels. Announcing the new initiative Secretary LaHood said:

“Our freight system is the lifeblood of the American economy, moving goods quickly and efficiently to benefit both businesses and consumers across the country. With the launch of the Freight Policy Council, we have an opportunity to make not only our freight system, but all modes of transportation, stronger and better connected.”

The Council will be chaired by Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari, and will include DOT leadership from highways, rail, ports and airports and economic and policy experts from across the Administration. The freight and logistics industries, consumers and other stakeholders will also play an advisory role, and states will be asked to offer proposals for improving the freight system in their region.

It is intended for the Council to pay particular attention to the techniques and policies employed in areas like Washington State which LaHood commented makes a better job of coordinating intermodal movements. He addressed comments to Seattle Port workers concerned about the Panama canal widening causing larger vessels to divert into the Gulf of Mexico saying that, far from reducing traffic, he felt that the North Western transit ports were ‘ahead of the curve’ and that they would prosper when the widening was complete.

The announcement of the Freight Policy Council was made on Seattle’s Harbor Island and joining the Secretary was Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell who LaHood introduced as ‘the Freight Senator’ before she commented:

“With increasing competition abroad, Washington businesses require a 21st century approach to moving goods. This new Freight Policy Council provides the roadmap our nation needs to stay competitive and grow our trade economy. Smart freight planning is especially important to Washington State, where more than one million jobs are in freight-dependent industries.”

The recent transportation bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21, signed by President Obama last month, established a national freight policy and called for the creation of a National Freight Strategic Plan. DOT’s Freight Policy Council will implement the key freight provisions of the legislation. A strong freight transportation system will be a key component essential for helping meet President Obama’s goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2015.

For every American citizen forty tonnes of freight ship every year via ships, railway and roads and the intention is to streamline all parts of the transport system, reduce traffic congestion, environmental impact and shipping costs, which is intended to lead to lower prices for consumers.

The Department of Transportation continues to invest in freight through grant and loan programmes. Over $953 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) funds have gone to 50 projects that improve freight. More than a third of TIGER funding— $354 million—went to 25 port projects from coast to coast. Freight projects are also eligible for the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) program which provides up to $35 billion in loans and loan guarantees. Under MAP-21, freight projects can also qualify for $1.75 billion in Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) funding for the next two years.

Photo: LaHood ‘glad handing’ during his tour of Washington State.