The 2015 federal surface transportation reauthorization, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, took a crucial step toward establishing a national freight infrastructure investment program. The creation of the FAST Act’s “Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects” (NSFHP) was a key component of this law. The NSFHP, operating under U.S. DOT as the “Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies” (FASTLANE) grant program, provides funds for highway and intermodal freight projects around the country. The program is funded at approximately $800 million annually through 2020.

This paper is not intended to justify the need for a federal freight program or outline the benefits that such a program could bring. Think tanks, industry groups, and research organizations alike have extensively researched these topics. The overwhelming consensus is that the movement of freight is of inherent federal interest. Freight by its nature crosses state and national borders, it is enormously important to the U.S. economy, and has wide-ranging implications for jobs. 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. Not only should the program provide funding for more than just highway projects (a small portion is set-aside for rail and intermodal projects), it needs to be structured in a way that can demonstrate its effectiveness and be funded in the long term. This paper examines the first round of FASTLANE projects and discusses several options for Congress and the Administration to improve upon the program.

The report recommends:

  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.

Eno’s Freight Working Group

Eno’s Freight Working Group is a standing advisory group on all matters relating to freight policy. The group, made up of diverse stakeholders, provides Eno staff with insights, knowledge, feedback, and guidance on how to approach some of the most challenging freight transportation problems of today. To learn more about the working group, visit the webpage here.