By Hasan Ikhrata, October 31, 2013
A key House panel in Washington has given the freight industry — in
Southern California and nationwide — a high-octane, bipartisan boost,
recommending creation of a national freight system and federal funding
to preserve and grow this vital segment of our economy.
on 21st Century Freight Transportation, which is made up of a
politically and geographically diverse group of House leaders, put
unanimous and enthusiastic support behind a much-needed national
intermodal freight funding policy. It was refreshing to hear them say at
their press conference that the headlines should be “we all agree,
freight affects every household and community in the nation and we must
remain globally competitive.”
Tuesday’s announcement underscores how the freight transportation
system has a direct and dramatic impact on our nation’s economic
vitality and quality of life. As the panel stated, freight
infrastructure needs financial support at the federal level.
nowhere is that more apparent than right here in our Southern
California communities. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach handle
40 percent of the nation’s containerized shipments. More than $350
billion worth of goods flow into and out of these two ports, while
another $78 billion passes through Los Angeles International Airport and
$35 billion through our international border crossings.
In all, cargo accounts for 60,000 direct jobs at our ports,
airports and border crossings, another 1.6 million trade-related jobs
throughout the region, and more than $30 billion a year in local, state
and federal tax revenues.
Add to that the growing number of
industries dependent on goods movement — warehousing and logistics, for
example — and the domestic and international trade industry represents a
third of all jobs in the six-county Southern California Association of
Governments’ region and a third of our gross regional product (GRP).
That’s a total of 2.9 million jobs and $249 billion in GRP.
Sustaining and growing those benefits requires us to ensure not
only that our ports, airports and border crossings are meeting demands,
but that our highways and rail networks are well maintained and capable
of handling greater capacity.
That’s where it becomes
particularly complicated, for the impact of an inadequately funded and
maintained freight transportation system is felt everywhere we turn —
ensuring on-time goods to market, from grade-crossing delays, to lost
productivity, to higher greenhouse gas emissions caused by traffic
To remedy this, SCAG’s 2012-2035 Regional Transportation
Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy identifies nearly $60 billion in
capital investment needs during that period. The plan calls for
investment in key corridors to support critical industry clusters, such
as a dedicated, clean-technology truck-lane system and further
investment in grade separations.
The economic benefit of doing
this correctly is significant, not just in California but across the
country. The Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors — of
which SCAG is a member — notes correctly that “passengers and freight in
the U.S. compete for an inadequate supply of infrastructure capacity
and financial resources. Both suffer.”
The Coalition has proposed creation of a federal Freight Trust
Fund (FTF), with elements similar to what the House panel is supporting.
• National vision and an investment strategy that
shapes and guides the nation’s freight infrastructure system with active
coordination among states, regions and localities.
• A dedicated funding mechanism, paid for by all users of the freight system.
• Merit-based criteria for allocating funds, with priority to those projects that contribute to national freight efficiency.
• Utilization of public-private partnerships that help move projects forward quickly and efficiently.
at SCAG applaud the leadership of the House Freight Panel’s work in
support of a national intermodal freight funding policy. Members of the
Panel set partisan politics aside and took time to visit with and listen
to us at the local and regional levels. Our concerns then, as they are
now, are the national economic implications if America does not keep
pace with other countries that are investing in freight infrastructure
to compete with the United States.
Tuesday’s announcement represents a bold step forward, and we
strongly encourage Congress as a whole to follow suit and make funding
of our freight system a national priority.
Hasan Ikhrata is executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments.