US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: Transportation Reforms Strengthen, Provide Certainty toFarmers, Ranchers, and Businesses

Transportation Reforms Strengthen, Provide Certainty to
Farmers, Ranchers, and Businesses
By Senator John Thune

John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressWith all the Senate has accomplished this year, it is hard to believe that we are just six months into the Republican majority. The Senate has passed nearly 50 bipartisan bills since January, and we are on pace to pass many more. We have made bipartisanship a cornerstone of the GOP-led Senate because when the two parties work together, the American people win.

With a new majority, came a fresh set of leaders at the numerous Senate committees, which is where the important groundwork is laid before legislation comes to the Senate floor. For years, this process was ignored under Democrat leadership, and the legislative process suffered because of it. Thankfully, that has changed, and our committees are once again hard at work.

I was among the new set of committee leaders that took over earlier this year, and am humbled that my colleagues selected me to lead the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has broad jurisdiction over significant issues that are important to South Dakota, including telecommunications, aviation, rail, highway safety, and interstate commerce. The committee has already passed a number of improvements this year.

South Dakota businesses and agriculture producers faced numerous challenges last year during the nine-month labor dispute at 29 West Coast container ports. During this prolonged slowdown, many businesses and agriculture producers faced inventory challenges during the holiday season because shipments on the West Coast were severely backed-up.

Some estimates say that these disputes cost the economy up to $2.5 billion per day, and the resulting strife was widely cited as a contributing cause to the anemic 0.2 percent annual growth rate of the U.S. economy in the first quarter of 2015.

To help prevent a reoccurrence, I led a group of senators in introducing a set of common-sense sunshine reforms that would help with early identification of port labor disruptions before they inflict damage on the economy. These reforms would also require yearly port metrics reporting, which would create a new level of transparency and accountability for U.S. ports and give businesses and agriculture producers across the country greater certainty. Last month, my bill cleared the Commerce Committee, and I am hopeful that the full Senate will consider this legislation soon.

Freight rail is another issue that is critically important to South Dakota businesses and agriculture producers because of our dependence on transporting commodities and products across the country and around the globe. Because of the serious rail backlogs that occurred at the end of 2013 and into early 2015, I introduced legislation last Congress, and again this year, to provide common-sense reforms to the Surface Transportation Board to address the added costs and uncertainty that many South Dakota agriculture producers and businesses encountered when they were unable to get reliable rail transportation they depend on.

I have worked with numerous South Dakota groups for years on this bill, which has strong bipartisan support and the endorsement of organizations like the American Farm Bureau Federation, the South Dakota Grain & Feed Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperatives, and the South Dakota Farmers Union. This bill passed the Senate unanimously late last month and is awaiting consideration in the House.

Once these reforms are in place, South Dakota farmers, ranchers, and businesses will be in a stronger position to ensure that they get a fair deal on critical shipments, coming or going.


6 thoughts on “US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: Transportation Reforms Strengthen, Provide Certainty toFarmers, Ranchers, and Businesses”

  1. Rail will save SD millions in road maintenance . It was short sighted to convert rail beds to walking & biking paths (20/20 hindsight) . The economic impact will most likely be temp. construction jobs & a boost to the agricultural economy . All in all a positive impact .

  2. Rep. Verchio,

    This was said about 25 years ago. Governor Mickelson said it. Then Director of the Railroads John Thune said it. But the federal government had a bunch of money and the railroad companies said they were “retrenching” and they’d never need them again.

    However, there is some genius to what Mickelson and Thune did. They got title to the beds (vs. having them go back to adjoining landowners) and made minimal change to the beds in the event they were ever again economically viable railroads. I don’t remember the details on how they got exemption from the feds and the railroads who wanted the rail beds to be wholly abandoned (I think the railroads didn’t want a competitor to reopen them) to get title under a single authority.

    This is a 30 year memory so it is foggy but to give you information that might be useful. Another motive for the railroads is they were in trouble. They got the steel for salvage (America had a steel shortage and steel was at record levels and auto companies were also finding ways to use less steel in cars) and tax deductions or credits if the land was donated to a public purpose.

    I remember Mickelson thinking it nuts to use hundreds of millions of infrastructure for bike paths that could be built for a fraction of the cost. But, I think there is a legal state Authority which has the title to all the railbeds and I think there is a pre-negotiated process for reconversion to rail use.

    I want to stress this is a 30 year memory so to the extent I remember it wrong, I plead bad brain cell organization.

  3. Rail service is only a very small piece of the transportation puzzle.
    Our highway infrastructure is in need of attention
    Our one water port is underused.
    there are several communities lacking air service.

    Rail service is important, however we have let maintenance go for too long, and getting caught up is not going to be cheap, or easy.

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