Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Eno Report Recommends Improvements for Federal Freight Grants

A container ship docked at the Port of NY/NJ.

The Eno Center for Transportation has released a new report outlining recommendations for improving the FASTLANE program. The "Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies" (FASTLANE) grant program, created by the FAST Act passed in 2015, provides funds for highway and intermodal freight projects to the tune of $800 million per year.

Click here to read the report.
Some beneficiaries of the FY16 grants include the Arlington Memorial Bridge reconstruction project in DC-Virginia; an interstate widening and realignment in Arizona; and improvements to the Port of New York/New Jersey's cross-harbor railcar float system.

The report authors write, "A federal discretionary grant program, if designed correctly, can target limited funds to freight projects that relieve bottlenecks and improve reliability for freight movements across the country. While FASTLANE is a significant step in creating a useful federal freight program there is ample room for improvement."

To that end, the report outlines several problems with FASTLANE as it exists today and offers six recommendations to address those problems.

Among the current challenges is the broad eligibility language of the program that has led to highway projects without explicit freight characteristics receiving nearly 60% of the FY16 grant awards. Moreover, the report notes that because FASTLANE funding comes through the Highway Trust Fund, legislators put a cap on how much of the total funding could be awarded to intermodal, rail, or port projects - at just one-ninth of the total amount.

Here are the report's verbatim recommendations, which were created with input from Eno's Freight Working Group.
  1. Congress needs to increase the funding available for FASTLANE grants – or a similar discretionary freight program – to at least $2 billion annually. 
  2. Congress should revise the eligibility standards to allow for all freight projects, including public and private railways, ports, waterways, highways, and intermodal connectors. 
  3. Congress needs to also restrict eligibility to only freight projects. 
  4. U.S. DOT needs to exercise greater transparency and explicitly describe its evaluation process, assign weights to criteria, and publish the final results. 
  5. U.S. DOT should emphasize leveraging non federal funds, both public and private, by increasing the weight of this metric so that projects that use fewer federal dollars score better. 
  6. U.S. DOT should be transparent and explicit in how it awards projects to achieve some form of geographic diversity, and should keep the equity aspect of the selection process to a minimum. 
Read the full report here.

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