USDOT to establish national freight network, seeks public comment
by Michael Hansen, Hawaii Shippers Council, May 6, 2016
The Federal Register published on June 6, 2016, an announcement from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) stating that they would be establishing a National Multimodal Freight Network (NMFN) across all modes of transportation including highway, rail, maritime and aviation.
The announcement was released pursuant to the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (H.R. 22), also known as the FAST Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 4, 2015. It authorized $305 billion in federal transportation spending over the Fiscal Years 2016 through 2020, and in Section 8001 directed USDOT to establish NMFN.
The previous federal transportation bill, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) signed into law by Pres Obama on July 6, 2012, among other things directed the USDOT to develop a National Freight Strategic Plan (NFSP) a draft of which was released on October 18, 2015 for public comment.
The deadline for public comments to NFSP was April 25, 2016. Eighty-five different parties submitted comments in respect of the draft NFSP including three domestic maritime (Jones Act) organizations (American Waterways Operators, Lake Carriers Assoc. & Transportation Institute), state departments of transportation and port authorities. No comments were submitted by government entities of Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, and neither did any domestic shipper (merchant cargo owner) organizations.
The FAST Act specifically superseded the NFSP provisions of MAP-21 and directed USDOT to use the draft NFSP and public comments as the basis for developing NMFN. Congress directed that the new transportation plan should emphasize multimodal connections to improve the efficiency of the national system. The USDOT in their Federal Register announcement established a new deadline for public comments applicable to the NMFN of September 6, 2016.
The USDOT invitation for public comment in respect of NMFN planning is an opportunity for the noncontiguous jurisdictions – including Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico – which are so dependent on maritime and aviation transportation to submit suggestions to improve the U.S. transportation system.
One of the obvious suggestions most aligned with the noncontiguous jurisdictions would be for Jones Act reform.
In a transportation law passed in July, 2012—the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP–21)— Congress directed DOT to develop a National Freight Strategic Plan and a National Freight Network (NFN) of highways. The NFN was to include the designation of a Primary Freight Network (PFN) of 27,000 centerline miles.
Section 70103 of title 49, U.S.C., which was established in section 8001 of the FAST Act, directs the Under Secretary to establish a NMFN that will be used to: (1) Assist States in strategically directing resources toward improved system performance for the
efficient movement of freight on the NMFN; (2) inform freight transportation planning; (3) assist in the prioritization of Federal investment; and (4) assess and support Federal investments to achieve the national multimodal freight policy goals described in section 70101(b) of title 49, U.S.C., and the national highway freight program goals described in section 167 of title 23, U.S.C.
Not later than 1 year after the enactment of the FAST Act, the Under Secretary is directed, after soliciting input from stakeholders through a public process and providing notice and an opportunity for comment on a draft NMFN, to designate a Final NMFN with the goal of (1) improving network and intermodal connectivity; and (2) using measurable data as part of the assessment of the significance of freight movement, including consideration of points of origin, destinations, and linking components of domestic and international supply chains.
DOT also included (as strategic freight assets) three additional ports (Portsmouth, VA, San Diego, CA, and Apra Harbor, Guam) in the Interim NMFN that did not satisfy the 2,000,000 short ton threshold but which were strategic ports as of April 1, 2016 as designated by the DOD, bringing the total ports included in the Interim NMFN to 116 ports.
DOT requests public comment on the maritime component of the Interim NMFN.
DOT requests public input as to whether the navigable waterways included in the Interim NMFN sufficiently depict routes along which domestic waterborne freight is commonly transported. DOT used these descriptions to spatially identify those inland and intracoastal waterway links on the Waterway Network that are shown on the NMFN map.
As further directed by the FAST Act, other maritime routes on the Waterway Network commonly used for the transport of domestic freight are also depicted in the Interim NMFN, including routes on the Great Lakes, U.S. components of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and coastal and open ocean areas.
In total, the Interim NMFN includes approximately 26,000 miles of inland, intracoastal, Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, coastal, and open ocean waterways. This total does not include the waterway mileage in international waters or foreign waters from the U.S. Mainland to our nation’s non-contiguous states (Alaska and Hawaii) or to the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, and other locations, although waterway routes at and around these locations are included where significant domestic trade takes place.
Collectively, the routes described above also encompass the entire America’s Marine Highways route system as designated by the Secretary of Transportation (46 U.S.C. 55601) Marine Highways are available to provide additional freight transportation capacity between U.S. ports, supplementing highway and rail systems.