The Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 – “The Highway Bill”

An interesting coalition of organizations representing shippers, transportation providers and government agencies is calling for the creation of a cohesive national freight strategy as part of the six-year Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009, also known as the “Highway Bill”.

The Highway Bill is currently up for debate in Congress .

If one is to believe the authors of the bill, it is intended to “transform Federal surface transportation to a performance-based framework to reduce fatalities and injuries on our Nation’s highways, address the mobility and access needs of people and goods, improve the condition, performance, and connectivity of the United States intermodal surface transportation system, provide transportation choices for commuters and travelers, promote environmental sustainability, public health, and the livability of communities, support robust investment in surface transportation, and for other purposes.”

The bill opens with that grandiose statement of purpose but critics are concerned that it doesn’t adequately address freight transportation. The Freight Stakeholders Coalition believes that substantial investment in the freight transportation system must be given a high priority by the U.S. legislature.

The Senate’s Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee almost unanimously approved an 18-month extension of federal highway programs from October of this year through March 2011, giving Congress a bit of breathing room to revise the existing bill. The coalition though believes that the delay indicates that freight issues are being pushed to the bottom of the President’s priorities.

Janet Kavinoky from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce noted that “[f]reight is an issue that should be at the top of the nation’s priority list – but it is not. No matter the differences among industries as to what needs the most funding, we all recognize 18 months is too long to wait to pass a reauthorization bill. What do we need more time for? There’s enough information out there about what we need to do to fill this room 10 times over.”

“The only thing we need time for is to make transportation and freight policy a priority,” she said. “The health care debate has sucked all the oxygen out of the room. But there must be time for us to work on more than one issue critical to our future.”

Currently, the bill addresses the creation of an inclusive freight plan covering roads, rails and ports. However, funding appears to cover only the expansion of highway capacity for freight – ignoring rail freight. books an enormous volume of both rail and road freight (as well as intermodal shipments). Freightquote is hopeful that Congress recognizes the importance of freight transportation – both roadway and railway – to this country’s economic recovery and addresses both bill language and funding to the creation of a completely inclusive freight plan as part of the Highway Bill.

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