December 05, 2019

Chairs DeFazio, Norton, Lipinski Statements from Hearing on Freight Transportation

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) during today’s joint hearing titled “Where’s My Stuff? Examining the Economic, Environmental, and Societal Impacts of Freight Transportation.”


Chair DeFazio:


Thank you for holding this joint Subcommittee hearing to consider how our trucking and freight rail transportation systems are growing and changing, and how the recent surge in goods movement is impacting transportation investment needs.

This hearing is timely, with consumers across the country preparing for the holiday season. Whether they realize it or not, shoppers who took advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals are relying on a vast and complex freight network to provide and deliver their purchases.

Our national freight system is crucial to our lives every day of the year, providing vital support to a functioning supply chain, transporting raw materials to factories and finished products to market, and connecting farmers’ produce with kitchen tables. Today, the U.S. freight transportation system already moves 17.7 billion tons of freight, valued at $16.8 trillion, every year. By 2040, freight volumes are expected to grow by 42 percent.


We need to be proactive in preparing to meet these growing demands on existing infrastructure, much of which is at capacity and nearing the end of – or past – its useful life. We also need to actively work to reduce the environmental impacts of freight transportation.


Today, more than two out of every five miles of America’s urban interstates are already congested, imposing costs on the trucking industry and non-commercial drivers, driving up fuel usage, and contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Medium and heavy-duty trucks contributed 23 percent of all transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions in 2017.


Freight railroads have been deploying various technologies and upgrading fleets to reduce idling and fuel consumption. As a result of these efforts, between 2000 and 2018, the freight railroads consumed 9 billion fewer gallons of fuel and emitted 100 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide.


As we will hear in testimony today, a significant portion of freight growth - and a disproportionate share of the cost of freight movements - comes from the last mile of deliveries. As Americans do more of their shopping online – and expect goods to show up the day after they click a button or sooner, these new patterns rely on the use of infrastructure not typically considered as integral to freight movement.


Recent press accounts have documented that in already heavily congested cities and urban areas, there is a cost to this new convenience in the form of gridlock, the degradation of safety, and pollution. We need to figure out how best to balance the benefits of convenience with the numerous costs.


In the last reauthorization bill, Congress attempted to support goods movement by establishing formula and competitive grant programs to fund freight improvements. Today we will hear in witness testimony a call for greater transparency in the selection process in discretionary grant programs administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program (known by the Administration as INFRA), created by Congress in the FAST Act, has proven to be dramatically oversubscribed. This points to a significant need for greater funding to be made available for freight projects. It also underscores that Congress needs to enact tighter rules around grant allocations to ensure the most worthy projects are funded, which I intend to look at in reauthorization. 


I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today and learning how Congress can help address current and future freight needs in a surface transportation.


Chair DeFazio’s remarks as delivered can be found here.

Chair Norton’s remarks as delivered can be found here.


Chair Lipinski:


Good morning.  Today’s joint hearing continues a series of hearings that the Rail Subcommittee has been conducting as we work on the surface transportation reauthorization.  Our subcommittee is playing a significant role in the reauthorization because a rail title will once again be included in this bill as it was in the FAST Act.  I expect this title to not only include Amtrak reauthorization and other passenger rail provisions, but also a robust investment in freight rail infrastructure.  I am a strong proponent of this investment because it will make freight movement faster and more efficient.  This investment would have far-reaching, positive impacts by increasing jobs – many of them good-paying union jobs, making our businesses more competitive, and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.


I represent part of Chicagoland which is the freight rail hub of North America.  Six Class I railroads intersect in the region and about 25% of all freight trains and 50% of all intermodal trains in the nation pass through.  In addition, Will County, just south of Chicago and partially included in my district, is the largest inland port in North America with major intermodal facilities which cause significant congestion and safety issues on Interstate 80 and surrounding roads.  This year the State of Illinois committed to raising the revenue needed to invest in the nationally-critical I-80 corridor; it’s time for the federal government to step up on this project and others like it across the country and this reauthorization is the time to do it.


As Ms. Aleman mentions in her testimony, the CREATE rail modernization program in Chicagoland, which has been ongoing for about 15 years, is a unique $4.6 billion Public-Private Partnership (PPP) designed to reduce delays for freight and passenger trains and ease congestion on roads crossing rail lines.  Through the years, CREATE has been funded through federal, state, local, and private sources.  I have long been a champion of this program since I was able to earmark money to it as one of 25 Projects of National and Regional Significance Program.  This was how megaprojects were funded in SAFETEA-LU. 


The FAST Act funds for megaprojects come through Infrastructure For Rebuilding America or INFRA, grants, which are specifically for freight movement projects. 


INFRA grants have a $500 million aggregate cap for port, rail, and intermodal projects.  This was a hard fought compromise as the original proposal would have excluded multimodal projects altogether.  That would have been a major mistake because these projects clearly are critical in improving the movement of freight.  In this upcoming reauthorization, the aggregate cap needs to eliminated or greatly raised.  We also need to talk about the structure of the program through which the money for megaprojects is going to be disbursed.  I don’t believe we should continue to hand the money over to this or any presidential administration to make these decisions.  But one thing I hope we all can agree upon is that we need a robust level of funding for megaprojects. 


Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges facing us today and there is an urgent need for bipartisan solutions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that the transportation sector is the largest emitter by sector of greenhouse gasses with 29% of the United States greenhouse gasses in 2017 emitted by the transportation sector.  One topic I would like to hear about from our witnesses today is how we can mitigate the impact of freight movement on climate change. 


Finally, we need to permanently authorize the 45G tax credit to give the shortline rail industry the investment certainty they need.  This tax credit has been expired since the end of 2017 and it is time we take care of this issue once and for all.


I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on how we can make the US’s freight network more robust, multi-modal, and climate friendly. Thank you.

Chair Lipinski’s remarks as delivered can be found here.