On Nov. 18, the Freight Stakeholders Coalition hosted a congressional briefing to inform congressional staff about the challenges and opportunities facing the U.S. freight infrastructure network. The International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA) is a member of the coalition which represents nearly every segment of the economy including shippers, transportation providers, and the owners and operators of infrastructure assets, both public and private. The coalition is united in the belief that a strong federal role in transportation programs is essential to maintaining interstate and foreign commerce and for the development of a more robust and competitive freight network.
One point of discussion was congestion at the West Coast ports. The port problem highlights a fundamental issue in the U.S. transportation system as an inability to absorb the volume of goods when external events occur, such as the longshoremen labor issues. The steady decline in infrastructure spending in the past decade and the increased economic activity has overwhelmed the entire U.S. system—not just the West Coast.
The group stressed the importance of dedicated long-term funding for the freight infrastructure network to bring the system back to capacity so it is resilient enough to weather unexpected crises. Presenters pointed to the gas tax and Highway Trust Fund as solutions for the U.S. to rebuild the entire system, including ports and rail.
Leslie Blakey, of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors, noted the disparity in infrastructure investment between America and its trading partners: “Around the world our trading partners are investing much more heavily,” she said. Blakey went on to say that additional investment in ports, intermodal, and highway infrastructure would keep America a first-class trading partner.
Chuck Baker, of the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association, was blunt: “We are on the precipice of squandering the advantage that the U.S. has in transportation infrastructure.” He added “It’s really time to get this done.”
The group noted the friction that exists among the different modes of transportation, from ships to rail or rail to last mile. The group recommends that the freight community as a whole work together with policy makers to find solutions that satisfy freight needs. The panelists agreed that the next transportation bill needs more “vision.” It requires a broader, holistic focus, with separate dedicated funding for freight transportation projects and a higher priority on intermodal connections.