Report emphasizes importance of freight; cites new funding mechanisms

The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission released its report to Congress, Transportation for Tomorrow, addressing the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure, the future of the motor fuel tax, growing congestion, and our nation’s economic viability in the global economy. Despite vastly divergent positions on many of the issues addressed in the report, the Majority Report and the dissenting Minority Views were unified around the need for a strong federal role in freight infrastructure development, underscoring how vital an efficient goods movement system is to the nation in terms of jobs, a robust economy and quality of life issues.

‘The Commission has shown enormous courage and bold leadership in developing a comprehensive and rational approach to an overhaul of our surface transportation system,’ said Mort Downey, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation and chairman of PB Consult. ‘America’s leaders and users of the system should come together to support their approach and see it through to implementation, particularly in the area of freight and goods movement infrastructure.’

The report recognizes the role freight and goods movement plays in the nation’s global competitiveness and the need for a national freight strategy. As such, the report calls for a multi-modal, federal freight program and dedicated funding based on user fees and customs fees.

The Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC) strongly commends the Commission for their focus on a unified, national, multi-modal freight system, placing a priority on projects of national significance with objective, performance-based justification for federal programs and spending.

Highlights from the freight sections of the report include:

Calling for increased gas tax revenues, tax credits, a portion of Customs duties revenues and a federal freight fee, the Commission states, ‘given the strong Federal interest in freight movement, Congress will need to make available a variety of funding sources to meet the needs of the Freight Transportation program.’

Underscoring the need for program changes, ‘Congress should create an accountable and transparent programmatic linkage between an assessed freight fee and the selection and funding of projects that facilitate increasing volumes of primarily trade-driven freight.’

Concerning a federal freight fee, the report specifies, ‘such a fee should be designed to ensure that commerce is not burdened by local and State proliferation of such fees; no mode of transportation or port of entry is disadvantaged; and the ultimate consumer bears the cost.’

The report states that, ‘because of the large transportation requirements associated with imported commodities, the Commission recommends that a portion of Customs duties be dedicated to help pay the costs of freight-related improvements.’ The Commission recommends, ‘that the Federal fuel tax be increased from 5 to 8 cents per gallon per year over the next 5 years, after which it should be indexed to inflation.’ Commission Vice Chair Jack Schenendorf, Of Counsel, Covington & Burling, points out that this would equate to 41 cents to 66 cents a day for the average American motorist. CAGTC supports a fuel tax increase with a portion going to support a dedicated freight program, particularly for aspects that improve passenger mobility as well as freight, such as highway bottlenecks.

In his Supplemental Views, while qualifying aspects of a freight fee or assessment, Commissioner Matt Rose, CEO, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway writes, ‘the Commission makes groundbreaking recommendations relating to a freight program intended to fund projects which increase freight volumes through freight origins, such as ports, key corridors and megapolitan terminal destinations.’

‘The Commission’s report is very much in tune with CAGTC’s goal of a national, dedicated freight program and sources of funding for freight and goods