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March 2 2020

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64 The Journal of Commerce | March 2 2020 Government THE US DEPARTMENT of Transporta- tion (USDOT) needs to look beyond highways and modal boundaries in crafting a National Freight Strategic Plan (NFSP), US ports and shipper and supply chain-oriented organizations said in February comments on the proposed plan. "Freight does not move on high- ways alone," the Port of Los Angeles said in comments filed with USDOT. "It is often in the places where vari- ous modes come together that public assistance is needed to close the fund- ing and infrastructure gaps which result in capacity inefficiencies and bottlenecks." The port and others responded to a request for comments on the long- awaited NFSP, published in the Dec. 27 Federal Register. The Fixing Amer- ica's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 mandated a multimodal approach to the NFSP and required USDOT to take 11 different issues and areas into account, including the identification of major trade gate- ways and national freight corridors, addressing bottlenecks on what's known as the National Multimodal Freight Network, and the inclusion of strategies to improve intermodal connectivity. The Port of Los Angeles and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) were among the parties that argued against caps on non-highway spending in fed- eral freight investment programs. "Greater flexibility will allow funds to be directed toward the freight sys- tem's most critical needs, regardless of mode," the Port of Los Angeles said in its comments. "While the FAST Act provided funding for freight infrastructure, in large part the money was restricted to use on road and highway freight projects," PANYNJ added. "There should be some prioritization of the air freight and airport-related surface transportation infrastructure links," to handle higher volumes. But according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), highway congestion costs the US trucking industry $75 billion a year. "Spend - ing decisions should take into better account the volume of freight moving on roadways," the ATA said in its com- ments. "The federal focus, especially, should be on those highway freight routes that disproportionately increase the cost of moving goods." Just 17.2 per- cent of National Highway System miles account for 86.7 percent of highway congestion costs, the ATA said. Costs as a metric The USDOT needs to look even fur- ther than construction and consider transportation costs paid by shippers in any national strategy, according to the Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA), representing the Washington state ports of Seattle and Tacoma. "The cost of shipping can be directly affected by the efficiency of freight systems, and therefore it is a useful metric to compare like-modal investments," the alliance said. In particular, the ports pointed to their loss of business to Canadian rivals in British Columbia, a loss they blamed largely on higher costs to ship by intermodal rail inland from Seattle and Tacoma. "In the decade that followed the opening of Prince Rupert's container terminal in 2007, the NWSA lost 15 percent of our market share to British Columbia ports," the alliance said in its comments. "The cost of moving a container from Asia through the ports of Vancouver or Prince Rupert can be $600 less than it is to move a container through our port." Higher rates at US railroads account for about two-thirds of the shipping cost differential, and the Harbor Maintenance Tax accounts for the remaining third, the NWSA said. "While less a reflection of our freight infrastructure than it is a reflection of our freight policies, these cost factors still affect the competitiveness of our freight system and our economy." Many of the positions backed by US ports are shared by the Coalition for America's Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC). Last year, CAGTC published its third edition of "Freight Can't Wait," a report identifying 50 critical US freight projects, from improvements to the Alameda Corri - dor in Southern California to aviation and rail freight projects in Chicago. The question remaining to be answered is how to pay for projects prioritized by an NFSP. Billions of dollars have been disbursed through USDOT grants since 2009, but federal grant programs are "oversubscribed," with $12 in requests for every $1 available, according to CAGTC and other commentators. And Congress remains deeply divided over raising taxes. Last April, the Trump adminis - tration and Congressional Democrats agreed on a $2 trillion infrastructure program, but the deal fell apart amid the Mueller investigation and lack of agreement on funding. Congress, the White House, and the plethora of transportation and logistics industries may eventually agree on what needs to be done and include that in a national strategy. But until a consensus emerges over how to pay for a national freight plan, let alone broader infrastructure needs, roads will continue to deterio- rate, and economic opportunities are likely to be lost. JOC email: twitter: @willbcassidy Truck drivers sat in traffic for a cumulative 1.2 billion hours in 2016, the equivalent of more than 425,000 drivers sitting idle for a year. International | Washington | Customs | Security | Regulation Smarter planning US ports push multimodal national freight plan By William B. Cassidy

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