WANTED – A National Freight Strategy

A national freight strategy could increase jobs and improve the economy. Image – Port of Los Angeles (Image – AAPA)

A coalition of 25 Chambers, ports and national business associations recently urged the Senate to create a national freight strategy in the surface transportation bill now being debated .  The Washington [State] Council on International Trade (WCIT) organized the effort, producing a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (see below for copy).

The group notes the opportunity for tremendous savings that could be achieved through establishing a more focused national freight policy and investment:

“freight bottlenecks and other forms of congestion already cost U.S. businesses about $200 billion a year – both because of the increased price to ship goods as well as transportation costs for raw materials and other inputs.”

We have some evidence of what a nationally focused program can achieve.  Canada established such a program, “National Policy Framework for Strategic Gateways and Trade Corridors,” in 2007. It created a “system and merit based—rather than modal—approach to transportation, infrastructure, policy, investment and marketing.”  A 2009 report on the initiative noted that “An integrated approach to an Atlantic gateway could significantly enhance Canada’s ability to capture a larger share of growing trade flows between North America and foreign markets.”

One program created out of the National Framework was a “merit-based fund to enhance infrastructure at strategic locations: major Canada-US land border crossings and key gateways/trade corridors” instead of peanut-buttering investment.

The result? Canada’s share of international freight movement is increasing.  More businesses are thriving, more people are employed.  

And it’s not just about business.  The focused strategy makes “a significant difference for local residents in mitigating the impact of increasing freight movements.”

And it’s not a “big brother” federal program.  Provinces and local community and business stakeholders play an important role in identifying priorities.

Here in the U.S. many business, labor and freight stakeholders argue we can do the same.  We can create a national strategy to focus efforts on adding capacity, reducing congestion, and mitigate the impact of increasing freight movement on communities.

The WCIT coalition offers a sampling of how that might happen:

  • Establishing a national freight strategic performance plan to assess the performance of our surface transportation system, identify a list of priority freight corridors and gateways, analyze long-term freight and transportation trends, and further the goals of the National Export Initiative;
  • Generating new tools and data to evaluate freight-related projects to determine cost-benefit and other attributes to ensure wise investment of taxpayer dollars; and
  • Creating a national competitive freight infrastructure investment grant program to prioritize cost-beneficial freight projects and invest in our nationwide freight network, including highways, railroads, ports, and intermodal facilities.

Signees of the WCIT letter include the Chambers of Seattle, Portland, Everett, Tacoma, Denver, Atlanta and Los Angeles; the Ports of Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver (WA), Portland and Oakland; and national associations such as the National Retail Federation and the Agriculture Transportation Coalition and the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

Learn more about the Canadian program in this 2009 report, “National Policy Framework for Strategic Gateways and Trade Corridors

While Congress debates whether or not to focus federal freight policy and investments, Canada and Mexico invest in port and freight projects that are taking market share from U.S. ports.  This threatens our port and freight related jobs. 


 Click on the letter or use the “+” tool to view in larger type.
2012.02 – WCIT Freight Letter Updated