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What does the FREIGHT Act really mean for our freight and ports?

Port of Oakland originally uploaded by ingridtaylar

There were a few questions bouncing around via Twitter and elsewhere about the new FREIGHT Act introduced yesterday by Senators Lautenberg, Murray and Cantwell. We issued a joint press release with a few other groups, but it’s worth spelling out in plain language some of the benefits of the bill.

For context, it’s worth understanding how freight transportation policy currently works now to understand how much of an improvement this bill would provide.

Today, there is no national freight program or specific national policy. There’s no dedicated federal transportation money that states, regions or ports can spend to improve throughput or operations at ports, intermodal facilities and freight corridors. And among the traditional federal transportation programs, freight rail projects in particular (much like passenger rail) aren’t eligible projects.

So if a port is congested or wants to expand, there’s little available federal money to spend directly on rail or any other mode. Your choices are highways or highways. When a state or port does spend to improve operations, there is no accountability to make sure they’re actually reducing port/freight congestion, moving freight faster, or reducing air pollution in surrounding communities —  a significant issue of environmental justice.

Under this new bill, there would finally be a coordinated national policy for freight and ports across the country, and for the first time public health and air quality surrounding freight hubs and facilities become strong criteria for awarding dollars.

No matter what ports decide to spend money on to improve their operations, they’d have to consider air quality, greenhouse gas reductions, and noise and water pollution in the surrounding communities with future federal investments. On top of that, there would be a merit-based grant program for projects that do the best job of improving freight operations while using money most effectively and hitting the benchmarks laid out in the bill.

Benchmarks? The goals in the bill set a powerful framework for accountability, spelling out what they money should accomplish, so taxpayers can know that their money is being spent wisely.

  • Reduce delays of goods and commodities entering into and out of intermodal connectors that serve international points of entry on an annual basis.
  • Increase travel time reliability on major freight corridors that connect major population centers with freight generators and international gateways on an annual basis.
  • Reduce by 10 percent the number of freight transportation-related fatalities by 2015.
  • Reduce national freight transportation-related carbon dioxide levels by 40 percent by 2030.
  • Reduce freight transportation-related air, water, and noise pollution and impacts on ecosystems and communities on an annual basis.

For example, a port in a coastal city in California would have to consider the impacts on the health of those communities surrounding the port. Would investing in more freight rail capacity ease congestion, lower overall emissions, and reduce local air pollution? These are the kinds of questions that would have to be answered.

“A truly multimodal national freight program that is accountable to measurable performance targets and benchmarks is something the U.S. has needed for a long time,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America in our press release.

“We applaud Senator Lautenberg for recognizing that our freight system can move our goods from coast to coast and power the economy while also being part of the solution for many of our most pressing problems: air quality, dangerous emissions, oil dependence, and congestion on our highways and interstates, to name just a few.”

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  1. Stephen Lee Davis

    14 years ago

    Good post from our partners at EDF about the bill as well. They’ve been working specifically in CA for some time now.


    • basilio

      11 years ago

      thanks for the info!
      now come in to see the blog

  2. Pingback: FREIGHT Act of 2010 | Mobilizing the Region

  3. Pingback: Streetsblog Capitol Hill » The Problems With Ports, or Why We Need a Freight Act

  4. Donald Tisthammer

    14 years ago


    This is one why I started B4DC Freight, connect shippers & motor carriers in a community that keep trucks loaded, reduce deadheadmiles, total freight miles, emissions, dependence on oil, accidents, congestion, accidents, injury death, & health care. Have freight at every destinatation instead of the old school broker moves feight from point A to point B, then leaves the motor carriers to search never knowing if he’ll deadhead hundreds of mile sor take a load paying less than it takes to operate equipment.

    Know why truck related accidents happen, shortcuts, bad decisons, infrastructure, no sleep, weather, fuel prices as in 2008 when 3065 motor carriers with at least fove trucks went broke, avoid bankruptcy, & health care costs are going up becaus eof it all.

    Transportation in America is running on an outdated model costing US billions of dollars a year over in infrastructure that is in need of $2.2 trillion.

    Look at the FHWA web site,

    http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freight/freight_analysis/nat_freight_stats/docs/07factsfigures/ 29 million, 20% of 145,173 total freight miles in 2002 were deadhead miles, empty trucks.

    Table 3-5. Truck Miles by Products Carried: 2002


    Figure 3-4. Estimated Average Daily Long-Haul Truck Traffic on the National Highway System: 2002


    Figure 3-5. Estimated Average Daily Long-Haul Truck Traffic on the National Highway System: 2035

    You’ll see that freight traffic is going to increase substantially, according to http://www.supplychainbrain.com video, National Freight Policy with US Dept of Commerce Joe Holecko, traffic congestion currently costs US $200 billion a year. In 2050 it will be 14% of GDT.

    We also spend $152 billion a year on food borne illness, coming up, new food safety legislation, cargo theft, $100K brokerage bond, $2.2 trillion needed for infrastructure, emissions standards, & more will drive costs up. Freight is going up, taking the price of everything we buy up, & energy independence dictates we do something before, not after transportation becomes the problem finance, health care, illegal immirgation, Social Security & the rest have.

    Anybody, any organization involved in tranpsortation, infrastructure, housing, communitires, heath care, or the air we breath, needs to get on board with reducing deadhead miles by bringing freight transportation into the 21st century. Waiting 100 years like we did health care, regulation in banking, homeland security, illegal immigration, alternative energy, & the rest of our problems isn’t an option.

    I need every body in every community to pass the word to all freight shippers & motor carriers that this is the last too big to fail, we let this one go, & we’re done.