Cantwell Calls for More Freight Investment – Port of Tacoma Commissioner Testifies to Congress

January 28, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a hearing today on transportation infrastructure, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, called for more investment in freight infrastructure and highlighted the importance of the Pacific Northwest to the nation’s export economy.

“This nation’s economy for the future is very much based on the Pacific being able to move export product to Asia. And we’ve got to make this investment,” Senator Cantwell said.  

Over the next decade, United States freight is set to increase by 40 percent, and ports on the Pacific Coast are critical to get American products to Asia. In 2018, Washington state shipped $440 billion in freight products. Port of Tacoma Commission President and Northwest Seaport Alliance Co-Chair John McCarthy testified at the hearing about the importance of these ports:

“More than a quarter of the U.S. GDP is a result of cargo that moves through seaports. Truly, seaports serve the entire nation, not just the communities where they are located,” McCarthy said. “Our port is a great example of this. Nearly 60 percent of our imports move beyond the region, and our exports originate from all 50 states.”

At the hearing, Cantwell pressed Joel Szabat, the Acting DOT Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy, on the department’s support for raising an existing cap for freight infrastructure investment grants provided by the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program, which Cantwell authored:

“How much are you willing to increase that cap? Because we’re going to have this debate. And I’m definitely going to be for lifting the cap. If you don’t want to lift the cap, what else can we do? Because this is a problem.”

Mr. Szabat responded, “I’m tempted to say yes, to answer your question, since you gave me the option of both yes or no, but I will not give that affirmative answer. The administration does not have a position on lifting the cap.”

Cantwell responded by highlighting investments made by other countries and pressing Szabat on the importance of increasing investment.

“I was illuminating the fact that other countries are being more aggressive and that we pay the price for [our] lack of investment. I am sure we can get a very broad coalition of people who say we should be spending more on freight. When you look at the numbers, we’re going to see a 40% increase in freight,” Cantwell said. “We should be celebrating that now we have, on a global basis…a tipping point. The majority of the world’s population is middle class. They’re going to eat and consume things that America can produce and export to them. It is a tremendous market, but if we can’t get our products there because they’re sitting somewhere in traffic, it’s going to be a problem for us.”

Cantwell has long championed programs to invest in American infrastructure. In 2015, she authored the INFRA grant program (previously called FASTLANE) to invest in railway, seaport, and highway freight mobility projects to increase efficiency and safety and reduce congestion. In the 2018 omnibus, she helped secure an increase in funding for the CIG program, as well as the National Infrastructure Investments program (known as TIGER or BUILD). In December 2019, she helped secure $500 million for the Port and Intermodal Improvement Program, a competitive grant program that funds projects to improve the safety, efficiency, or reliability of the movement of goods through a port or the intermodal connection to a port, in the National Defense Authorization Act. And as the Ranking Member of the Commerce Committee, she has repeatedly called for increased investment in freight and transportation infrastructure to reduce congestion and improve the flow of goods.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s opening statement and her Q&A with witnesses is available