The GROW AMERICA Act is a big step forward for freight policy

Blog Post | May 13, 2014 - 1:28 pm
By Shruti Vaidyanathan, Senior Advisor for Research

The U.S. Department of Transportation rolled out the GROW AMERICA (Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America) Act recently, calling for several big changes in transportation policy and funding.

The proposed transportation reauthorization legislation includes plenty of useful ideas on a variety of topics. ACEEE is particularly focused on freight transport, an area that has rightfully received lots of attention in recent years and that may have some chance to progress in an otherwise unpromising legislative environment. GROW AMERICA includes freight-related measures that make significant strides towards creating a comprehensive national freight policy. One of the biggest changes to note is that the proposal from the Obama administration has widened the scope of national freight policy, the National Freight Network, and the National Freight Plan to include all modes of freight transportation. Current law (MAP-21) is focused only on highway freight. ACEEE applauds this change in definition.[/no-glossary]

The multimodal scope is particularly important in light of the proposal’s creation of a discretionary grant program to support freight-related infrastructure investments (National Freight Infrastructure Program) as well as the creation of an incentive program for states to fund upcoming freight projects that meet certain specified requirements. The proposal would set aside $10 billion over 4 years for the freight program as a whole. The National Freight Infrastructure Program would fund capital infrastructure projects, operational and equipment improvements, and the creation of intermodal facilities. Grants would be awarded to projects most likely to achieve freight goals highlighted in MAP-21.

ACEEE also welcomes the addition of two state freight-planning requirements in the GROW AMERICA act. States that receive money from the National Freight Infrastructure Program would be required to establish state freight advisory committees and create state freight plans every 5 years using a 10-year planning horizon. While these actions are already encouraged under MAP-21, successful freight policy really depends on the participation and cooperation of all states.

In general, the GROW AMERICA proposal does an admirable job of laying out a path towards achieving an efficient, multimodal national freight system. Continued discussion on these issues in the next few months will be crucial to realizing a forward-looking federal freight policy.