February 13, 2018

Trump infrastructure plan must fully fund freight programs, group says

CAGTC raises concerns of broad-brush approach leaving freight out in the cold.

By DC Velocity Staff

The Trump administration's $1.5 trillion infrastructure initiative unveiled yesterday contained virtually nothing about supporting the movement of goods. Today, freight interests let the White House know about it.

In a statement, the Coalition for America's Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC), a group of public and private sector organizations that lobby for intermodal freight funding, said in a statement that the administration's proposal does not "identify investment amounts specific for freight projects and appears to treat all infrastructure" the same. Such a broad-brush approach "could result in regionally and nationally significant freight infrastructure projects necessary to sustain American economic growth," the group said.

Infrastructure programs at the federal level encompass transportation, energy, broadband, and water. Elaine Nessle, CAGTC's executive director, said today that the White House proposal contained no information about specific programs relating to any of the industries. That may have been by design, she said, because it would be impossible to single out individual programs in a document covering such a large economic footprint.

CAGTC renewed its request to have intermodal projects funded at $2 billion a year above the $2 billion annual baseline that was established under the five-year transport funding bill signed into law in 2015. In the statement, CAGTC emphasized that more than 77 percent of the nation's freight moves between states, requiring a "coordinated federal goods movement strategy supported by sufficient funding levels. "Freight network improvements cannot be delivered piecemeal by states and localities," the group said.

The White House's fiscal year 2019 budget request funds the Department of Transportation at about $76 billion, roughly the same level requested in the Administration's FY 2018 request. Of that, $60.9 billion is allocated to the agency's "mandatory programs," most of which is money set aside for the Highway Trust Fund. Congress is still trying to finalize the agency's FY 2018 budget. The DOT's FY 2017 budget, the last one to be finalized, funded the agency at $73.9 billion.

For the second year in a row, the Administration has proposed to eliminate a popular grant program called "Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery," better known by its acronym of "TIGER." Established in 2009 during the Great Recession, the program leverages funding from multiple sources, including the private sector, to provide grants to projects that would have difficulty obtaining capital through the traditional federal funding process.

Projects containing a strong freight component have received 42 percent of available funding, about $2.25 billion, since the program was created, according to an CAGTC analysis done last year.

The House voted to eliminate TIGER funding for the 2018 fiscal year, while the Senate voted to restore it. Nessle said there has been a pattern in recent years where the House voted to kill it, the Senate disagreed, and the funding was approved anyway.

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