Improving our nation’s transportation infrastructure must be a national priority that deserves urgent attention. Capacity constraints, structurally deficient bridges, deteriorating roads and locks and dams that are long past their expected useful life require the necessary investment to efficiently move the country’s freight now and into the future.
NCFC strongly urges Congress to establish proactive transportation policies that foster investment to improve our nation’s aging infrastructure. Additionally, we support:
- Maintaining the agricultural hours of service exemption
- Passing long overdue trucking productivity improvements, including increased allowable weights for hauling agricultural commodities
- The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)
- Improvements in rail capacity, competition, service and accessibility in rural America
- Measures that increase U.S. port efficiencies and prevent port disruptions
Congress passed a five-year highway reauthorization bill in December 2015. Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) provides for $305 billion in spending, and maintains the federal government’s current spending level of about $50 billion per year for transportation projects, adjusted for inflation. However, in future reauthorizations, Congress will still need to address the approximately $16 billion per year shortfall in revenues generated from the federal gas tax.
The U.S. has almost 4 million miles of public roads. Most of the road mileage is located outside the National Highway System (NHS) and on highways other than federal-aid highways. This is true nationwide, but more pronounced in rural areas with populations less than 5,000. Only 4.3 percent of rural roads are located on the NHS and 8.3 percent of urban roads are on the NHS.
According to federal data in 2012, 74 percent of bridges, 73 percent of the 4 million miles of public roads, and 33 percent of all vehicle miles traveled (VMT) are in rural areas. Only 44 percent of rural road mileage is eligible for federal grants; the rest is maintained by state and local funding.
Increases in federal funding, and/or reclassification of rural roads and bridges to be eligible for funding, should be a priority in any infrastructure package. Identifying adequate long-term funding sources would provide certainty, enable better long-term planning, and improve efficiency in road maintenance and construction. Special consideration should be given for the prioritization of rural roads and bridges by States and local rural and agricultural stakeholders to better meet the needs of farmers, ranchers and the rural communities in which they live.
America’s inland waterways and ports long have provided U.S. farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses with a strong comparative advantage, enhancing our ability to efficiently and competitively serve domestic and global markets, as well as to secure essential crop inputs for production of grains, oilseeds and other agricultural commodities. However, the inland waterways system now risks becoming a potential detriment rather than a comparative strength.
To immediately address inland waterways infrastructure issues, priority should be given to:
- There currently exists a backlog of 25 critical inland waterways modernization projects that need to be funded to bring the system into the 21st Century ($8.75 billion total investment).
- Of utmost importance to American agriculture, the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) already is congressionally authorized and includes construction of seven top-priority 1,200-foot locks (LaGrange, Peoria, Upper Mississippi River Locks 20, 21, 22, 24 & 25) at the most congested locations on the Upper Mississippi River System (representing $2.8 billion of the $8.75 billion backlog).
- Major rehabilitation projects ready for construction (including Brandon Road, Dresden Island and T.J. O’Brien) also should be prioritized (representing $368 million of the $8.75 billion backlog).
- The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund has a $9 billion surplus, and efforts should be made to unlock more of these funds for the intended uses of maintenance, including dredging.
Meanwhile, comprehensive rail reform legislation has long been needed to address many of the concerns of rail shippers, including competition, service and capacity issues. NCFC supports legislative rail provisions that would take modest steps to contribute to a better balance between shipper and carrier interests in rail policy deliberations at the Surface Transportation Board and make the agency more accountable, transparent and effective. Thus, NCFC supported the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015 (S. 808), which Congress passed in December 2015. The bill makes important reforms to better equip the STB to handle today’s freight rail challenges, such as giving the STB investigatory authority, creating a voluntary arbitration system, and requiring the Board to maintain a simplified and more efficient rate review mechanism when a full “stand-alone cost” review is too burdensome. Furthermore, S. 808 calls on the rail industry to invest appropriate resources to maintain rail service levels to prevent the types of service breakdowns such as were experienced in 2013 and 2014.