Trucking Voices Concerns On Freight Network Plan

By Daniel P. Bearth, Staff Writer

This story appears in the Feb. 17 print edition of Transport Topics.

Freight industry leaders criticized a proposal to designate 27,000 miles of highways as a national primary freight network, arguing that it could unfairly restrict future investment in transportation infrastructure.

“Identifying routes of critical significance is an important first step before making investments with limited availability of transportation funding,” R.J. Cervantes, highway policy manager for the California Trucking Association, said in comments submitted to the Federal Highway Administration.

A national freight network needs to cover “all first- and last-mile connections to major freight facilities . . . and all interstate thoroughfares,” Cervantes said.

Congress asked FHWA to designate a primary freight network to help states direct resources toward improving freight movement as part of the MAP-21 highway funding law enacted in 2012.

FHWA released a draft of the plan in November and set a deadline of Dec. 19 for comments. The deadline was extended twice and set to close Feb. 15.

“A greater emphasis should be placed on identifying critical urban freight corridors and intermodal highway connectors,” Darrin Roth, director of highway operations for American Trucking Associations, said in comments submitted last week to the Federal Highway Administration.

While the primary freight network was capped at 27,000 miles by Congress, FHWA officials since have identified more than 41,000 miles of roadways that an analysis shows would be “necessary” for efficient transport of goods on the nation’s highways.

In soliciting comments, FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez said the agency wanted to “focus more attention on the routes upon which America’s businesses rely.”

Once a primary freight network is selected, Mendez said, the agency will incorporate the routes into a larger national freight network that includes all interstate highways and rural routes designated by states.

A review of nearly 190 comments posted as of Feb. 11 shows how significant highways are to economic development for many communities and states.

David Guigear, Mundy Township supervisor in Swartz Creek, Mich., said the Interstate 69 corridor from the Blue Water Bridge to Lansing should be included in the primary freight network because it would help “introduce new industry to replace the jobs lost as a result of the downturn in the automotive industry.”

Likewise, Scott Cole, plant manager for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. in Texarkana, Texas, also made a pitch to include the multistate I-69 corridor to accommodate increasing traffic due to the booming energy development in East Texas and to facilitate trade activity by improving access to border crossings and Gulf Coast ports.

“Designation of the primary freight network should not be tied to an arbitrary number,” Cole said.

Pragati Srivastava, administrator for the Memphis, Tenn., Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the 27,000-mile limitation in the draft plan “is too restricted” and that additional highway corridors are needed to connect highways with rail and air hubs.

Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) urged FHWA to add the proposed Illiana Expressway in northeastern Illinois to the primary freight network, even though the 47-mile roadway hasn’t been built. He said that, under existing law, the primary freight network will not be amended for 10 years.

“It would be a missed opportunity not to include the Illiana as a highway in the PFN now,” Foster said.

An official with the Kansas Department of Transportation said the draft plan fails to connect major freight corridors, such as Interstate 70 from Kansas City to Denver, and fails to take into account agricultural commodity flows.

“Freight corridors, not center line miles, should provide for a continuous route from origin to destination,” said Chris Herrick, director of the division of planning and development for KDOT.

Tiffany Melvin, executive director of the Dallas-based North American Strategy for Competitiveness, stressed the importance of linking U.S. roadways with highway corridors in Canada and Mexico.

“The current proposed primary freight network does not reflect this principle,” she said.

The president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas in Nogales, Ariz., also supported the inclusion of highway segments along the southern border.

“FPAA believes that efficient movement of freight will be significantly hampered without the inclusion of certain highway segments to support international trade,” said Lance Jungmeyer, whose association represents more than 100 U.S. companies that import fresh produce grown in Mexico.


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