The Freight Coalition was formed in 1995 to implement Kansas City's Intermodal Freight Strategies Study. My remarks today are focused on the intermodal aspects of transportation policy.
Now, we define intermodal as moving freight between two points by a combination of two or more methods of transportation. Although Kansas City has a vested interest in air cargo and keeping the Missouri River viable for navigation, I want to focus the majority of my comments on freight activity, truck to rail and rail to truck. As the number two rail center in America with nearly 700 trucking firms, we think that Kansas City knows intermodal.
We believe ISTEA has done little to improve the nation's intermodal freight infrastructure. In Kansas City, which appears to be ideally positioned to benefit from a national focus on intermodalism, no major examples exists of this Federal policy having any impact other than consuming thousands of dollars as our local metropolitan planning organization struggles to comply with the bureaucracy mandated by this act. A lot of time and money were spent studying things, but a lot of things haven't been done.
We do not, however, believe the current act needs sweeping changes. Rather, like Kansas City's own transportation infrastructure, it needs to be improved to work more efficiently with some new additions and proper funding.
First, the act needs to preserve the role of the Metropolitan Planning Organizations in the transportation planning process. It is through the MPOs that community dialogue and consensus building on transportation priorities may be achieved. Also, since State Departments of Transportation often have an overriding commitment to highways, the MPOs may be best able to objectively consider the intermodal needs of the freight community and how they interact with other priorities such as air quality and brownfields mitigation.
Secondly, the act needs to focus on completion of our nation's freight infrastructure. While this mainly relates to the National Highway System priorities, it's critical to railroads. The National Highway System contains a category for intermodal connectors to better facilitate the movement of goods between modes, ensuring those goods move by the most efficient manner. And there are several of those in Kansas City that must be funded.
A national freight infrastructure should also improve safety and improve timeliness. An effective means of doing this is elimination of at-grade rail crossings, especially in the rural areas. This would save hundreds of lives reduce product loss, reduce environmental risk from spill and make the nation's freight system work better.
A national freight infrastructure should also seek to optimize existing transportation resources rather than encouraging new facilities. In this age of technological sophistication and global competition, it is in the nation's interest to promote development in the use of inland ports such as Kansas City to complement traditional ports and border crossings. An intermodal approach to moving goods makes it possible to reduce highway congestion, especially in urban areas near crossing borders and deep-water ports, by getting goods bound for cross-country destinations off the roads. The positive impact on highways and the environment of goods moving by various modes deserves more study and attention, as does the development of innovative, inland solutions to congested traditional ports.
Along the same line, a national freight infrastructure should account for other areas of public policy, especially in the arena of trade. Kansas City's business community supported NAFTA and most other trade agreements. We have been working to secure designation of a new category in ISTEA for International Trade Corridors. While generally landmarked by I-35 and I-29, we seek a technological intermodal and trade-oriented corridor that uses all the nation's freight assets along the broad corridor. We urge Congress not to limit the development of such corridors to highway improvements, but to encourage the development of truly intermodal corridors to account for congestion, space, time and profitability.
Finally, it is a significant oversight that air maintenance areas, such as Kansas City, are not eligible for congestion mitigation or air quality category funds to allow them to remain in attainment. Having such funds provides individual regions the ability to think outside the box and address other transportation issues. A region like Kansas City that does everything to support and to meet with the spirit of the Clean Air Act Amendments and ISTEA should not be penalized for success. It should be rewarded and encouraged towards continuous improvement.
I want to thank you for this opportunity to discuss some of the priorities this year. We look forward to working with you, especially Senator Bond, to achieve a bill that will be good for the nation's shippers and carriers, but more importantly, good for consumers and consumers' bottom line.