Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Freights Connect The Dots In Highway Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In mid-May, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta pulled the wraps off the Bush Administration's proposal for a six-year, $247 billion highway and transportation bill. The reaction from the road building lobby? Disappointment. But the freight and shipping industry had few complaints.

"We're pretty happy about it," says Joanne Casey, president of the Intermodal Association of North America, a group representing railroads, water carriers, ports, truckers and other freight outfits. "It's a good starting point."

The administration's proposal is called the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003, or SAFETEA. It addresses the reauthorization of the current law, known as the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), set to expire at the end of September.

So why does the cargo crowd like SAFETEA? Several provisions in the bill zero in on the issue of intermodal shipping, or the seamless movement of containers from boats to trains to trucks. Most important, SAFETEA establishes dedicated funding to build out the so-called intermodal connectors, or roads that link the ports, airports and rail and truck terminals to inland interstates and highways. It also would make tax-exempt bonds available for freight projects and free up credit for private rail infrastructure investment under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or TIFIA.

The freight lobby has been pushing for such provisions for years. Its primary argument: America faces a freight capacity crisis. That may be a hard one to believe these days, what with the nation's manufacturing capacity at 20-year lows.

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