Business support is building for a House bill that would raise the diesel fuel tax on trucks by 12 cents per gallon to generate funds for infrastructure projects targeted at freight movement. It would also transfer $3 billion per year from the Treasury Dept.’s General Fund into a Goods Movement Trust Fund.

Introduced recently by Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA), HR 6291 and dubbed the Freight FOCUS (Freight is the Future of Commerce in the United States) Act of 2010, the bill calls for:

  • Creation of an Office of Freight Planning at U.S. DOT, led by an Assistant Secretary for Freight Planning
  • Creation of a national freight plan and a process for multimodal freight planning and prioritization of funding
  • Designation of Freight Corridors of National Significance and the creation of corresponding corridor coalitions
  • Creation of a separate “Goods Movement Trust Fund “to fund the nation’s freight needs.

Several groups have been quick to applaud the bill, including the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). Kelly Kolb, vp of global supply chain policy for RILA sent a letter of congratulations to the House. “We thank Representative Richardson for introducing legislation aimed at addressing our nation’s transportation infrastructure holistically,” Kolb wrote. “Retailers rely on a vital transportation network to move goods efficiently to consumers in America’s smallest towns and biggest cities. “

“A national freight policy is central to relieving bottlenecks and congestion, increasing productivity and allowing the U.S. to better compete in the global economy,” she added. “Retailers support the proposed legislation and we look forward to working with policymakers on this important issue.”

“There is growing consensus around a dedicated, federal freight program to address this country’s goods movement needs,” said Leslie Blakey, executive director of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC). “HR 6291 calls attention to the system’s needs and will contribute to the important debate over how our nation should go about providing for our goods movement system demands.”

The American Truking Assns. (ATA) has also generally endorsed the bill as an improvement over the current highway funding mechanisms. But ATA favors taxing gasoline as well as diesel.

Rep. Richardson was among four Democratic members of the House who brought forward an earlier freight bill (HR 5976; identical to SB 3629) in July called The FREIGHT Act of 2010. (Focusing Resources, Economic Investment, and Guidance to Help Transportation.) This legislation would direct the federal government to develop and implement a strategic plan to improve the nation’s freight transportation system and provide investment in freight transportation projects. The goals include reducing congestion and delays, increasing the timely delivery of goods and services, reducing freight-related transportation fatalities, and making freight transportation more efficient and better for the environment.

This bill, more comprehensive in scope than the new Freight FOCUS Act, is intended to:

  • Reduce delays of goods and commodities entering into and out of intermodal connectors that serve international points of entry
  • Increase travel time reliability on major freight corridors that connect major population centers with freight generators and international gateways
  • Reduce by 10% the number of freight transportation-related fatalities by 2015.
  • Reduce national freight transportation-related carbon dioxide levels by 40% by 2030.
  • Reduce freight transportation-related air, water, and noise pollution and impacts on ecosystems and communities on an annual basis.

The FREIGHT Act also would create a new competitive grant program for freight-specific infrastructure projects, such as port infrastructure improvements, freight rail capacity expansion projects, and highway projects that improve access to freight facilities.

No significant action is expected to take place on either of these measures until after the November elections.