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Transportation Insiders

Goods Can’t Move Without a Highway, Rail Network

A freight yard near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

photo of Fawn Johnson
November 4, 2013

A special panel in the House on freight transportation issued a report last week calling on the Transportation Department, the Army, and the Coast Guard to designate a national, multi-modal network for moving commercial goods through the country. It also called for "robust private investment" in all modes of transportation in which freight moves. That mainly means highways and rail, but it also includes waterways and ports, air transport, and even pipelines.

Let's be honest. The report doesn't tell us much we don't already know. It says, for example, that "the current state of highway infrastructure does not adequately serve the needs of those moving goods across the nation." Even worse, the highway trust fund will soon be insolvent and one in every four bridges is structurally deficient. The report also says that 75 percent of all United States international freight moves by water, but lack of funding has deferred maintenance of federal channels that serve coastal ports. The need to expand entrance channels will become acute as larger ships will soon be traversing the broadened Panama Canal.

Just looking at the well-known facts presented in the report misses the underlying message. It is really saying that it is time for policymakers to start taking infrastructure investment seriously. Congress and the White House haven't done that to date. If the ho-hum attitude does not change, the consequences to economic growth could be severe.

 

It's also worth noting that Republicans and Democrats participated equally on this panel, which means they are presenting their recommendations with a universal front. Yes, the recommendations may be lacking in detail, but the sentiment shines through loud and clear. "Because bottlenecks at any point in the transportation system can seriously impede freight mobility and drive up the cost of the goods, improving the efficient and safe flow of freight across all modes of transportation directly impacts the health of the economy," said Rep. John Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., who co-chaired the panel with Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.

Is there value in highlighting potential or actual bottlenecks in the movement of freight? What are good examples of potential bottlenecks? What part of the freight transport network most needs attention? How can public and private entities work together to create a national network, particularly when incorporating the private-sector's rail network? What is the best way for Congress to tackle these issues? Will a report like this one make any difference in a deadlocked Capitol Hill environment?

From the Transportation Insiders

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