The National Retail Federation said the House of Representatives’ passage of a long-term transportation bill on Thursday was critically important to America’s retailers.
The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 includes major reforms that would strengthen the nation’s freight infrastructure, a key priority for an industry that moves hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of merchandise each year, the NRF said.
“Long-term surface transportation reauthorization is needed to address the growing bottlenecks and inefficiencies in the supply chain resulting from a lack of infrastructure investment,” David French, NRF’s senior vice president of government relations, wrote in a letter to Congress supporting the bill. French said the legislation would “provide long-term stability to the nation’s surface transportation programs.”
“While we are happy to see a renewed focus on freight movement, we are disappointed that the House did not pass amendments on truck productivity or port performance,” French said after the vote. “We continue to believe that these provisions would help retailers and other freight stakeholders improve efficiency throughout their supply chains.”
The six-year road map for transportation infrastructure investments includes the establishment of a national highway freight policy and creation of a $725 million grant program to jump-start major highway and freight projects, both priorities sought by the NRF and other members of the Freight Stakeholders Coalition. Among the NRF-backed amendments that failed to pass was a measure requiring the Bureau of Transportation Statistics to track port data as part of efforts to prevent a repeat of the slowdown at West Coast ports that ended earlier this year.
Speaking at Wednesday’s U.S. Fashion Industry Association’s Trade & Transportation Conference, Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said port productivity has rebounded since the contract dispute that led to a West Coast port slowdown that ended in February.
“We’re back to all-time highs in ship-, truck-to-rail port clearance,” Seroka said.
Discussing issues such as chassis availability and management, port capacity and handling of larger ships, environmental concerns and threats of future labor problems, Seroka added, “If the industry doesn’t step forward with solutions and opportunities, then those that legislate will do so.”
The bill, which passed in a 363 to 64 vote, authorizes nearly $340 billion for highway and transit program over six years. It now must be reconciled with a similar Senate bill.
The House bill also includes a provision reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, an independent federal agency that provides financing mechanisms to help foreign buyers purchase U.S. goods. The Senate included a reauthorization of Ex-Im in the highway bill it approved, so the bank’s charter, which expired in June, has a good chance of surviving in a conference committee.
The bank provides several financing tools, including export credit insurance. It has also provided critical credit insurance and guarantees for textile producers and apparel brands over the years.