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Freight Gets Its Due at House Hearing

June 27, 2013

By Oliver Patton

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There’s no shortage of ideas for ways to improve the national freight network.

A House panel researching the issue yesterday got a list, long, broad and mostly familiar, of what transportation providers would like to see in a federal freight policy.

The Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation was assembled by Reps. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., to gather perspectives on freight in preparation for the next highway bill, due in October 2014.

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Shuster and Rahall are, respectively, chairman and ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which will draft the bill.

Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., who chairs the panel, called in a half-dozen logistics executives to give their views at the hearing.

David Abney, chief operating officer of UPS told the panel that the quickest way to improve freight movement would be to increase the length of twin trailers from 28½ feet to 33 feet.

This would improve efficiency and reduce highway congestion and the number of trucks on the road without harming safety, he said. Also, because the weight limit would not change, there would be no more damage to roads and bridges, he said.

UPS also wants Congress to raise more highway money by increasing fuel taxes and indexing them to inflation. In addition, it should explore mileage-based fees and tolling for new highway lanes.

Longer term, Abney said, the Department of Transportation needs to improve freight policy coordination.

“The secret to moving freight efficiently and economically is the ability to shift between different modes,” he said.

“Our country’s freight transportation system was built in silos and stitched together as a patchwork. If we want America to reach the next level of efficiency and productivity, we must shift our approach and transform our infrastructure from a patchwork to a network.”

He also called on Congress to take steps to improve rail time in transit. “That will allow us to continue to move freight off the highways and onto the railroads,” he said.

The railroads, as always is the case, are not so keen to see truck capacity increase.

Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, said Congress should defer consideration of size and weight changes until the Department of Transportation finishes its study of the issue.

Further, Hamberger said, federal policy should ensure that all modes pay a fair share of their costs. He said 80,000-pound trucks pay only 80% of damage they cause to roads and bridges, and that recent transfers of money from general revenues to the Highway Trust Fund add to unfairness of cost allocation.

These factors create a competitive hurdle for the railroads and they distort the freight transportation marketplace, he said.

Hamberger also urged the panel to focus on improving intermodal connections, encouraging public-private partnerships for freight rail projects, and speeding up the project review process.

Tracy Rosser, senior vice president of Wal-Mart Stores, wants to see more work on improving freight movement in urban areas, as well as more uniformity in state and local regulations.

Scott Satterlee, senior vice president of C.H. Robinson and speaking on behalf of the Transportation Intermediaries Association, stressed brokers’ concerns about the CSA safety enforcement system.

They want the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to tell them which carriers are safe to hire.

“Freight brokers and shippers should not need to second-guess the (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) on who is authorized to operate on the nation’s roadways,” he said.

They also want federal policy to support entrepreneurship in trucking by ensuring that independents can enter and leave the market in an orderly way.

Other TIA concerns include cargo theft and inconsistencies between food safety regulations and cargo claims regulations.

More support for higher infrastructure spending came from Mark DeFabis, president and CEO of Integrated Distribution Services, representing the International Warehouse Logistics Association.

He called for raising revenue through fuel taxes, mileage-based fees or and more public-private partnerships. Another idea is to establish a Freight Trust Fund to pay for high-priority bottlenecks in the highway system, paid for from diesel tax revenues indexed for inflation.

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