Chairman Rockefeller's Remarks on Freight Transportation in America: Options for Improving the Nation's Network

June 18, 2009

I am very pleased the Senate Commerce Committee is holding this important hearing on freight transportation in America.
Although this is not an issue many Americans think about every day, efficiently moving goods into and throughout this country is a cornerstone of America’s economic viability.
Getting goods to market in a timely fashion not only creates jobs, but allows businesses to prosper and provides people with access to the resources they need. 
West Virginia is a perfect example.  In my great state, freight transportation contributes approximately $38.5 billion in revenue each year to our state’s economy. 
As many of you likely know, West Virginia is the second largest producer of coal in the nation.  And because we have a transportation network designed to provide efficient interstate and international flow of goods and services – our greatest natural resource can be exported to 33 states, the District of Columbia, and 25 countries, accounting for approximately 50 percent of all of America’s coal exports. 
Our broad transportation network, which includes facilities like West Virginia’s Port of Huntington – the largest inland river port in America – are integral to the state’s ability to remain a global coal provider and keep nearly 39,000 West Virginians in coal and transportation jobs.
Despite many successes, there is still much more that can be done to sustain America’s economic advantage.  Throughout the years – and especially in the past year of economic downturn – it has become quite clear that the federal government should take a more active role nation-wide to improve freight mobility. 
Freight transportation projects often compete with passenger-related projects for state or local funding, making it difficult to secure public support for freight transportation projects.  Many state and local governments may also not know the many regional or national benefits that a particular project could provide.  This is something that the federal government can help coordinate.
As we move forward to reauthorize our nation’s federal surface transportation programs, I believe that the Senate Commerce Committee must develop a national freight transportation strategy that does more to target federal investments toward projects designed to improve competitiveness by eliminating chokepoints and increasing efficiency.  This is lacking at the federal level and we need this important guidance to prepare our freight network for the future.
I want to thank the witnesses for testifying on this important topic today.  Thank you.