DOT Launches New, Cantwell-Created Office to Prevent Costly Supply Chain Snafus

November 29, 2023

After pandemic-era freight congestion clogged NW ports, Cantwell wrote provision creating Multimodal Freight Office & secured its inclusion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law


This week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) launched the Office of Multimodal Freight Infrastructure and Policy (Multimodal Freight Office). U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, authored the provision in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) that directed the DOT to form the new office in an effort to strengthen America’s supply chain. The new office will help coordinate activities among the different methods of freight — shipping, rail, trucking, air, etc. — to keep the overall U.S. supply chain running smoothly, move products onto shelves faster and help ease costs for consumers.

During the pandemic, in Washington state, capacity issues throughout the national freight network created unprecedented congestion at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, with as many as 15 ships idling in the Puget Sound awaiting berths to unload. Empty containers piled up at Pacific Northwest ports, while goods sat on docks in Asia because of a container shortage there. The extra costs and delays drove up prices for consumers and hurt Washington state exporters. The congestion was caused by multiple issues, including truck driver shortages, chassis shortages, rail services issues and warehouse availability. But since no single organization existed to consider the entire freight transportation supply chain, the Biden Administration appointed a Ports Envoy to help solve the problem. This new office makes permanent the port envoy solution and houses that office within DOT.

In 2022, Sen. Cantwell spearheaded passage of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, a law to crack down on skyrocketing international ocean shipping costs and ease supply chain backlogs that raise prices for consumers and make it harder for U.S. farmers and exporters to get their goods to the global market.

As part of the BIL, Sen. Cantwell secured additional funding for the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) Grant Program, which she’d previously created as part of the FAST Act of 2015 to support nationally and regionally significant freight and highway projects. Since the program’s creation in 2015, the State of Washington has been awarded $268.8 million. Sen. Cantwell also worked to secure $2.25 billion for Department of Transportation’s Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP). Since 2019, Washington state has received a total of $113,005,433 in PIDP funding for five awards for ports across the state. In October, Sen. Cantwell announced that the Northwest Seaport Alliance would receive a $54 million PIDP grant, the largest grant recipient from the program, for phase one of the Husky Terminal Expansion project at the Port of Tacoma.