(Steven Lane/The Columbian)
With the Port of Vancouver as her stumping grounds, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., on Wednesday called on Congress to pass a bill aimed at boosting the country’s ability to move freight.
She said her proposed FREIGHT Act would create the nation’s first freight transportation strategy and would generate jobs by prioritizing existing transportation funding for projects that would improve the speed and efficiency of handling and moving cargo.
When asked whether her bill would require new sources of revenue to accomplish its goals, Cantwell said it focuses on making better use of existing transportation funds.
“If you want to add to it,” she said, “then great.”
Cantwell gave her formal remarks at the end of a bus tour of some of the Port of Vancouver’s key sites, including its Subaru vehicle-handling site and Terminal 5, where Australian mining giant BHP Billiton wants to build a structure to export potash.
As the bus trundled past various sites, port managers gave Cantwell a rundown of the job and investment impacts of its top projects. The port’s $150 million West Vancouver Freight Access project — a 28-mile expansion of rail tracks slated for completion in 2017 — is one of them. The largest capital project in the port’s 100-year history, officials estimate it will create at least 1,000 new, permanent jobs and more than 4,000 temporary construction jobs over its lifespan.
Cantwell peppered port managers with questions. She asked the port’s executive director, Larry Paulson, about the financial plan for the West Vancouver freight rail project.
“Do you have all the money you need?”
The port is pursuing a federal loan of about $80 million to complete the project, Paulson replied.
When the bus reached the port’s Terminal 2, where United Grain Corp.’s operations thrum and towering silos loom, Cantwell appeared stunned by the size of the company’s operation.
“Oh, my gosh,” she said.
A short while later, Cantwell, Paulson and Tony Flagg, vice president of business development for United Grain, delivered their press conference remarks.
Flagg said the port’s freight rail project and the deepening of the Columbia River channel represent critical investments in infrastructure that are enabling his export operations to meet growing demand from Asia.
“We’re going through a tremendous period of growth,” Flagg said of his company’s $80 million project to expand its grain-handling operations and provide more storage for corn and soybeans.
Cantwell said the Port of Vancouver’s public works investments, which have created jobs and accelerated the movement of cargo, are examples of why it’s crucial for the nation to bolster its freight network.
“I’m urging Congress to create
jobs by passing the FREIGHT Act,” she said.
Cantwell’s proposed Focusing Resources, Economic Investment and Guidance to Help Transportation, or FREIGHT, Act would charge the federal government with creating a strategic plan to strengthen the nation’s cargo-moving system to support economic growth and job creation.
The legislation would launch a new Office of Freight Planning and Development within the U.S. Department of Transportation that would organize efforts to boost the effectiveness of all parts of the nation’s freight transportation network.
The major goals of the legislation, which Cantwell introduced last year along with senators Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., include:
• reducing delays in the shipment of goods and commodities;
• increasing travel-time reliability along freight corridors connecting major population hubs;
• reducing by 10 percent the number of freight transportation-related deaths by 2015;
• reducing levels of carbon dioxide produced by the nation’s freight transportation system by 40 percent by 2030.
The FREIGHT Act also would establish a new competitive grant program for freight-specific infrastructure projects, such as port improvements, freight-rail capacity projects and highway projects that upgrade access to cargo-handling facilities.
Cantwell said her legislation would support projects like the Port of Vancouver’s West Vancouver freight rail initiative — which will more than triple the port’s rail capacity — and would bracket similar projects in Washington, Oregon and across the U.S.