Congressional report discusses improving freight transport

A House committee Tuesday released an extensive examination of the nation’s freight system that calls for changes in the financing of waterways construction and harbor maintenance.

Prepared by members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the report, Improving the Nation’s Freight Transportation System, will be used by lawmakers in crafting the next surface transportation bill, most likely in 2014. [www.transportation.house.gov]

“The smooth movement of cargo across our transportation network is an essential ingredient in increasing American competitiveness and growing American jobs,” said Rep. Nick J. Rahall, II, D-W.Va., a member of the special panel.

On the inland waterways, the report underscores the importance of the 12,000-mile river system as an “efficient, cost-effective means of transporting goods to domestic and international markets.” Rivers carry 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports, 22 percent of domestic petroleum products and 20 percent of the coal used in electricity generation.

Without barges and towboats, the report said, the nation would need 6.3 million railroad cars or 25 million trucks to handle the difference. Inland transport also offers significant environmental benefits. 

But, the report said, “Much of the critical infrastructure for waterborne transportation is in dire need of repair. More than half of the locks and dams in the United States are over 50 years old.”

The report makes a series of recommendations that Congress should consider, covering all transport modes from trucking to barging.

On inland waterways, the report says that Congress should:

  • Authorize adequate funding for operations and maintenance of the inland river system.
  • Direct the Army Corps of Engineers, in coordination with the Treasury, to assess financing options for the inland system
  • Work with the Inland Waterways User Board, states and other interested parities to plan and prioritize federal investment in the inland system.

Many of these recommendations are already included in the Water Resources Reform Development Act (WRRDA), now in its final stages of consideration before Congress.

The report also recommends that the $7 billion balance in the Harbor Maintenance Fund be spent on authorized harbor maintenance and dredging projects. HMF maintains a large balance, but money hasn’t been spent to reduce the extensive backlog of infrastructure projects. The report suggests that money in the fund also be used to finance other activities in waters adjacent of navigation channels.

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