U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today urged his colleagues in a speech on the Senate floor to pass the DRIVE Act, a bipartisan bill designed to modernize the nation’s infrastructure and transportation systems and allow America to better compete in the 21st century. The bill includes several Commerce Committee titles that cover key transportation and regulatory reforms. A section-by-section of the Commerce titles may be found here, and a bill summary may be found here.
The full text of Sen. Thune’s floor speech follows:
Mr. President, I rise to speak about the freight division of the DRIVE Act.
These provisions represent the combined efforts of both the Commerce Committee, which I have the honor of chairing, and the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
To create this division, we incorporated a number of provisions from legislation offered by Sen. Cantwell, Sen. Markey, Sen. Booker, Sen. Murray, and the administration’s GROW America Act proposal.
The language included in the Commerce Committee’s freight program also drew from recommendations made by the Department of Transportation’s non-partisan National Freight Advisory Committee.
Because of our nation’s vast transportation network, freight can move by rail, aircraft, truck, or ship – it is multi-modal.
Under the bipartisan legislation before the Senate, freight planning efforts will be concentrated under the Secretary of Transportation. This is to reflect the multi-modal nature of how goods are transported and ensure that the involvement of various agencies, which regulate different forms of transportation, is properly coordinated.
Because freight moves from truck, to rail, to port, freight planning must consider these connections, and must include the development of a strategy to expand capacity and increase efficiency to meet growing demand.
This is especially true when it comes to focusing infrastructure investment decisions.
Growing demand indicates and fuels a growing economy.
We need a plan to handle the significant growth of freight traffic that we expect in the coming years.
The Department of Transportation notes that, by 2040, our transportation system is projected to haul an additional 9 billion tons of freight. This represents a 45 percent increase over what we move today.
As our economy recovers and continues to grow, we will continue to need additional freight infrastructure. The freight network serves our import and export needs, and is a critical element of our economic competitiveness.
Bottlenecks and delays have significant economic costs.
Freight is by nature not just a highway problem.
Airports, ports, and railroads connect farms, manufacturing centers, and the markets they serve.
Freight needs are not just urban issues, they are also important for rural America.
Advancing agricultural freight projects is necessary for the economies of many states, so ensuring planning and funding for these projects is also critical.
Keeping freight transportation costs low keeps American farmers competitive in the global marketplace.
In the winter of 2014, South Dakota faced significant challenges moving grain from the state due to congestion in the rail network.
When the freight could not move, the farmers were not getting paid. Commodities faced spoilage due to a lack of available storage space.
Agriculture is the leading driver of South Dakota’s economy. Delays, and the significantly increased costs of moving grain by rail, negatively impacted the pocketbooks of farmers.
This, in turn, reduced Main Street’s bottom line as well.
More recently, the West Coast port slowdowns delayed shipments to and from stores in South Dakota and across the country.
Agricultural products for export were delayed and imports of products from lumber, medical supplies and automobiles to basic retail goods were delayed.
This was an unforced error that harmed our economy for far too many months.
This labor strife underscored the interconnected nature of our transportation system, and how vital our freight infrastructure is to each and every state.
In fact, the resulting strife was widely cited as a contributing cause of the U.S. economy actually shrinking in the first quarter of 2015.
Protecting our competitiveness is at the core of this legislation’s freight program that was developed between the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and my colleagues on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Planning for and fixing our freight network will create and maintain jobs over the long term.
Reducing delays and lowering the price of freight transportation serves the entire supply chain and the American consumer.
That is why the freight division in the DRIVE Act is so important.
The bill improves the planning process, engaging states and stakeholders to help plan for future freight needs.
States will provide a forward-looking plan to address these freight needs step by step. These plans will develop investment strategies and prioritize projects for funding.
This bill’s consolidated strategy that plans for both highway projects and multimodal projects is a significant improvement over the status quo.
In addition, the EPW Committee developed a highway trust fund formula program that will support critical projects in every state.
In the first year alone, the bill provides $450 million dollars of grant funding to assist with these critical investments.
Projects to improve rail-grade crossings, port facilities, and connections between freight modes of transportation will have access to these new resources.
This will reduce the time and cost of moving goods.
The Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors noted that the planning and strategy outlined in the bill is, “a significant step forward for multimodal freight planning and policy.”
The American Association of Port Authorities says, “Elevating a policy for freight within your legislation sends a strong message that freight must continue to be a priority and that planning, funding and the establishment of a multimodal freight network are critical for the economic growth of our nation.”
I ask unanimous consent to include these statements in the record.
Mr. President, the legislation before the Senate is a critically important part of addressing our nation’s current and future transportation investments.
As Senator Cantwell often says: “freight can’t wait.”
The DRIVE Act includes these critical freight provisions that will help our economy and lead to job creation. Strengthening our freight program is one more reason to support this legislation.