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US freight infrastructure investments needed to meet demand

US freight infrastructure investments needed to meet demand

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) has claimed that improvements to critical freight infrastructure have not kept pace with current and future demands.

In a jointly released report, the AAPA and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) argued that while states are making progress, there is a significant potential backlog in investment within the country.

According to the associations, although freight “took a major step forward” with the enactment in December last year of the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, “the promise of a 21st century freight network has yet to be fulfilled”.

As the report continued, as states are continuing to put in place freight plans and consider investment needs, it is evident that the freight and multimodal funding in the FAST Act and the programmatic improvements “have long been overdue”.

The report noted: “Just six months after passage of the FAST Act, with over US$258bn in identified freight projects from just 18 states, 36% of the country reported seeing vast investment needs. Similarly, with 29 states, representing 56% of the country, reporting 6,202 projects, there is a significant potential backlog in investment.”

Kurt Nagle, AAPA’s President and CEO, said that the results of AAPA’s first The State of Freight survey last year identified baseline investment seaport landside transportation infrastructure needs of US$29bn over the next decade to keep pace with growing freight volumes and increasing population density in metropolitan areas.

As the report read, adding the US$258bn identified in the latest report to last year’s US$29bn for port surface transportation investment needs, the base line for the US freight network is US$287bn.

In the paper, the associations provided a series of recommendations to leverage private-sector investment and provide additional and ongoing funding resources outside of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) for the overall multimodal freight network.

According to the report, the latter should be done in a way that will allow it to supplement highway formula dollars and fund discretionary grant programs.

As the report elaborated, while a growing number of freight projects are multimodal, rail and truck-dominated distribution centres, the current funding criteria make it extremely difficult for multimodal projects to received sustainable funding from the HTF.

According to the associations’ survey, “the absolute minimum for multimodal projects covered in this report is approximately US$20bn, not counting the 747 freight projects, valued at US$147bn, that were not spelled out for highway and multimodal projects, and the other 33 states that have yet to report their multimodal and funding needs”.

The paper read: “This report shows the extent of investment demands and the eligibility constraints for multimodal projects. A sustainable freight funding source is needed to not only meet the build-out demands of a multimodal freight network, but to maintain it as well.”

“We need an investment and maintenance strategy between the public sector and private sector of the freight network,” the report added.

The two associations also called to move the Harbour Maintenance Tax (HMT) from discretionary to mandatory spending in order to allow all the revenues from its collections to be used for the maintenance of deep draft navigation channels and to provide more equity.