Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security convened their first hearing of the 115th Congress. “Moving America: Stakeholder Perspectives on our Multimodal Transportation System” was billed as an opportunity for stakeholders to discuss strategies for improving the efficiency and safety of the nation’s multimodal freight network.
In her opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Deb Fischer (R-NB) applauded the previous Congress for passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. Unfortunately, acknowledged the Senator, the chronic insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund was not addressed in a meaningful and long-term way by the FAST Act. To mitigate future shortfalls, which are forecasted to resume in 2020 (the same year the FAST Act expires), Senator Fischer touted her “Build USA Infrastructure Act” during Wednesday’s hearing. Fischer’s legislation would divert a percentage of Customs and Border Patrol fees, which are collected on freight and passengers at ports of entry, to the Highway Trust Fund, as well as offer states additional flexibility as they initiate critical transportation infrastructure projects.
Four witnesses provided their perspectives on the challenges and opportunities for the multimodal freight system. Matt Rose, Executive Chairman at BNSF, spoke at length about how shifts in energy consumption are affecting his industry. Mr. Rose encouraged Congress to be cognizant of freight rail public benefits, including improvements to the environment, reduced highway congestion and associated maintenance costs, and supply chain efficiencies. He finished by imploring Congress to increase investment in U.S. infrastructure at large, preferably through a strengthened “user pays” program.
Christopher Lofgren, President and Chief Executive Officer at Schneider National, provided insights into the trucking and transportation logistics industry by overviewing Schneider National’s best practices. Current freight bottlenecks create challenges for his company, testified Mr. Lofgren, and with U.S. freight volumes anticipated to grow by 45 percent by the year 2040, those challenges will only increase. It’s imperative that Congress increase investment in the country’s surface transportation infrastructure, which will ultimately improve the health of the overall economy.
Tom Guard, Vice President of Integrated Supply Chain at the Dow Chemical Company, testified about the unique needs of the chemical industry when getting goods to market. Mr. Guard overviewed his industry’s reliance on multiple modes of transport, including rail, road, and marine, and emphasized the culture of safety used by his company when transporting hazardous materials.
Wick Moorman, President and CEO of Amtrak, outlined the clear federal role in maintaining and improving the passenger network. He emphasized to lawmakers that while public-private partnerships can be utilized in some scenarios, those structures cannot replace federal funding. The federal government must provide adequate levels of investment, as well as in leadership in streamlining and environmental review, and removing red tape.
Should the White House choose to release an infrastructure investment plan, perhaps in conjunction with the FY 2018 budget request, members of the Commerce Committee and others in the Capitol will explore how the President proposes to spend additional revenue. Congress, including both parties and several Committees of jurisdiction in both the House and Senate, will be instrumental in determining how to make Trump’s campaign promise into a reality.