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Reps. Lipinski and Dold Lead Bipartisan Push to Improve Freight Movement (September 16, 2015)

Reps. Dan Lipinski (IL-3) and Robert Dold (IL-10) have been joined by a bipartisan group of Illinois members of Congress in asking House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders to include provisions improving the movement of freight in a comprehensive surface transportation bill now being developed.  They are looking for the federal government to provide the leadership and resources necessary to ensure a strong national freight network, while also focusing on policies that will help alleviate congestion on the roads.

“The American economy relies on the efficient movement of freight,” said Reps. Lipinski, Dold, and the bipartisan group of Illinois lawmakers in a letter.  “Businesses rely on complex supply chains to receive inputs and ship outputs to customers; all while minimizing transportation and warehousing costs.  As consumers, nearly everything we buy – from food to clothing to electronics and durable goods – arrives via the freight system.”

The United States is home to a vast freight transportation network – over 4 million route-miles of public roads, almost 140,000 miles of rail, and some 11,000 miles of navigable channels.  While many communities are impacted by freight operations, metropolitan areas like Chicagoland play a critical role in managing goods movement.  In fact, six of the seven major railroad lines, a quarter of all United States rail traffic, and nearly half of intermodal rail traffic – the big steel boxes that are carried on ships, trains, and trucks – passes through the Chicago region.

“Hubs and gateways in locations such as Chicago are vital for export and import activity and the national movement of freight, but experience highly localized impacts such as congestion, pollution, and community disruption,” said the members in the letter.  “With the largest concentrations of people and highly complex transportation systems, these metropolitan areas are closest to the daily impacts and understand the issues that arise from goods movement.  As such, it is critical that the next transportation bill prioritize these key freight regions in any new freight program.”

The letter requests that any freight program included in the transportation bill include:

·         Dedicated Funding to the Freight Program
A freight program should be funded with contract authority at a level of at least $2 billion/year.

·         Multi-modal or Mode-neutral Funding Eligibility
A freight program should allow states, local communities, and regional planning organizations to fund projects that help move goods and people in the most efficient and safe way, regardless of whether they are road, rail, or port projects.  It is critical that a rail-intensive region such as Chicago receives adequate funding so that community issues such as railroad crossings can be addressed to ease congestion and help local communities.

·         Metropolitan Area Focus
Metropolitan areas play a critical role in managing goods movement.  These regions are key transportation hubs where bottlenecks can impact the entire country.  Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) know their local regions best and should be given a key role in planning and programming. 

·         Formula Funding and Metropolitan Regions
If a freight program includes a formula component, the metrics used to distribute those funds should recognize the outsized role major metropolitan areas play in our national freight system.   Places like Chicago, where we transfer shipments between modes, have the physical capacity to handle large freight volumes, extensive warehousing and logistics centers, and the appropriate skilled workforce to coordinate and manage goods movement.

·         Competitive Grant Funding Program
A freight program should include a competitive grant program that is also funded with contract authority and include wide-eligibility for projects of all modes, not just highways.  The selection process for this program should place an emphasis on complex megaprojects that have significant national and regional economic and quality of life benefits, such as the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE).