What a National Freight Program Could Look Like

March 26, 2012
By Michelle Kelley

Repairing bridges, filling pot holes, paving highways. These are the activities that typically come to mind when we think about national transportation spending. There’s a new spending bill making its way through congress that may toss another element into the mix: moving freight.

The bill, known as MAP-21, introduces the concept of a national freight program—an official U.S. policy focused on improving the performance and condition of the country’s freight network. The word “policy” is key here. In the political world, “policy” is reserved for topics of great importance to the country’s national interest. It’s quite a fitting term when you consider that a better national freight network will mean better chances for the U.S. to effectively compete in international markets.


National Freight Network
In order to improve the national freight network, you first have to define it. The National Freight Program would establish a primary freight network, made up of the highways, intermodal connectors, airports, and seaports that are the most crucial to freight movement in the U.S.

Funds for the program would be set aside for states to use for projects to improve a section of the network or a crucial corridor that connects to the network.

There are several ways the network could be improved, including,

  • reducing freight traffic congestion and delays
  • increasing productivity
  • increasing economic efficiency
  • increasing travel time reliability on major freight corridors

Types of Projects 
States may obligate funds to public and private transportation related projects provided that the projects improve an aspect of the national network or enhance cross-border commerce within five miles of the US-Canada and US-Mexico border.

Project funds may be used for

  • development activities, such as planning, feasibility analysis, revenue forecasting, preliminary engineering and design
  • construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, acquisition of real property and equipment
  • smarter technology to improve freight flow or improve truck freight efficiencies within or near high volume intermodal facilities
  • efforts to reduce the environmental impact of freight movement on the network
  • creating truck-only lanes and adding or widening shoulders
  • diesel engine retrofits and other alternative fuel projects for tractor trailer trucks

Read full text of S.1813: MAP-21
 | Govtrack