Editor’s note: The following statements come from the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors

In its 2009 Reauthorization policy proposal, Refocus. Reform. Renew., the Administration gets it right on identifying the challenges facing the nation’s transportation system and SAFETEA-LU, the legislation authorizing federal funding for the system. However, in laying out their views about program structure and finance strategies, the Administration fails to put forth a proposal that meets America’s needs for a safe, efficient, effective multimodal transportation system.

The administration’s proposal describes the current system as ‘broken’ and seeks to reduce the federal role in hopes that states and localities will fill that gap by turning to the private sector, whose involvement would largely be paid for with tolls and concession fees. For the nation’s commerce, this is the wrong ‘fix.’

Goods must travel over multiple modes to arrive at America’s stores and businesses and freight must flow efficiently to get US products to competitive foreign markets. Our freight system is a national asset that needs a federal focus,’ said Leslie Blakey, Executive Director of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors.

One centerpiece of the next federal surface transportation legislation must be a Freight Trust Fund (FTF) or similar dedicated account, whose revenues are predictable, sustained, firewalled from other uses, and committed to infrastructure that enhances the movement of goods.

Trade, as a percentage of the US GDP, has been steadily increasing during the past quarter century, rising from 13% in the 1990s. Today, it is 30% and it is expected to grow to 35% in 2020 and to as much as 60% by 2035.

‘Jobs and economic vitality are at stake. Our trading partners ’ the EU, China and India ’ are investing far more than we and our ability to compete will suffer if our leaders adopt a piecemeal approach,’ said Tim Lovain, Alexandria, VA City Councilmember.

The FTF, introduced by the Coalition in 2005, would be funded by new national freight fees, a concept supported in the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission’s Report, Transportation for Tomorrow, along with a small contribution from the Highway Trust Fund. The strategic investment program should be structured so that:

  • Funds are distributed based on objective, merit-based criteria, with higher-cost projects subject to more stringent evaluation than lower-cost efforts;
  • Funds are available to support multi-jurisdictional and multi-state projects, including intermodal connectors, selected on the basis of their contribution to national freight efficiency.
  • Long-term funding is made available in a manner similar to the current Transit Full Funding Grant Agreements to ensure that once a project is approved, funds will flow through to completion;
  • All users of the freight transportation system are required to contribute to the FTF;
  • FTF revenue sources are predictable, dedicated and sustained; and,
  • Participation in this program does not preclude projects from seeking funding from existing sources, reflecting the multiple benefits they can provide to local communities as well as to national freight movement.

Blakey added, ‘The Administration did the reauthorization process a great disservice by side-stepping the tough decision about how we will finance our nation’s future needs. Relying solely on private financing, congestion pricing and the sale of our nation’s transportation infrastructure to business investors will not provide the capacity or efficiency our future demands.’