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Multimodal Opportunities Via Enhanced Freight Act of 2013

The Multimodal Opportunities Via Enhanced Freight Act of 2013 (MOVE Freight Act) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 5, 2013. This bill would amend the freight provisions of Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), the two-year transportation reauthorization bill passed last summer. Intended to strengthen MAP-21's national freight policy recommendations and related programs, the MOVE Freight Act would expand which transportation modes are eligible for investment, introduce a new freight grant program, and mandate state freight plans.

Opportunities Identified
MAP-21's national freight policy requires the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) to identify a Priority Freight Network, initially comprised of 27,000 highway miles, as the core investment asset of the nation's freight transportation system. The MOVE Freight Act would broaden the definition and the grant eligibility of projects along the Primary Freight Network by including projects that benefit freight rail and intermodal connections in addition to highway investment.

Addressing a longstanding concern of freight stakeholders, the MOVE Freight Act would establish new national freight infrastructure investment grants to pay for eligible capital projects with up to 80-percent federal participation. Eligible projects would include seaport development, multimodal terminal facilities, land port of entry, freight rail improvement or capacity expansion, intelligent transportation systems benefiting freight, and aerotropolis systems, which are defined as "planned and coordinated freight and passenger transportation networks" around major airports. The bill does not identify a funding source for this new grant program, nor does it state the total dollar amount that would be available to grant applicants.

The MOVE Freight Act would also change MAP-21's freight provisions to require that states adopt freight plans; currently, MAP-21 simply recommends the adoption of state freight plans. Further, states would be required to coordinate with their neighbors on freight plans.

As introduced, the MOVE Freight Act picks up where MAP-21 left off in advancing freight as a national priority. By broadening the modal scope of eligible grant categories and establishing a new grant program, the MOVE Freight Act nudges federal transportation policy closer to the national vision of an adequately funded multimodal freight network as recommended by GO TO 2040.

Obstacles to Overcome
However, CMAP believes that federal freight policy should go even further than the MOVE Freight Act's recommendations. Any federal freight grant program should have a reliable and dedicated funding source, for example through user fees, a tax on the value of transported goods, or other sources. Additionally, U.S. DOT should develop detailed investment criteria to account for the expanded investment eligibilities, especially regarding the potentially sensitive topic of public investment in private rail infrastructure.

A less-critical provision in the MOVE Freight Act relates to the mandated preparation of freight plans by the states. A substantial incentive to prepare state freight plans already exists through MAP-21 -- projects identified in state freight plans qualify for a higher share of federal support (up to 95 percent) than other highway capital projects (up to 90 percent). While it is important for states to coordinate on freight planning, the MOVE Freight Act does not address the potential role that metropolitan areas could play in the development of state freight plans.

CMAP is encouraged by the recent legislative attention to the needs of the nation's freight system. As the nation's freight hub, northeastern Illinois has a significant stake in the development of national freight policy. As such, CMAP will continue working with both public and private partners to advance national freight policy.