In the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU, enacted 2005), Congress encouraged the consideration of freight movement during statewide and metropolitan transportation planning processes. Congress emphasized the importance of freight movements because it had seen the impressive improvements in carrier productivity that resulted from deregulation of the freight transportation industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s and understood the opportunities that a cost-efficient and competitive transportation system created for trade and economic development. Deregulation had freed the freight transportation industry from many modal and jurisdictional barriers resulting in the creation of new, innovative services and increased productivity. By encouraging cross-modal coordination, Congress hoped to catalyze another advance in national freight productivity.
Freight was included among the planning factors in SAFETEA-LU, which helped focus federal, state, and metropolitan planning organization (MPO) attention on freight issues. There is a growing awareness at the state, metropolitan, and local levels of the importance of freight transportation and a corresponding push to link state and local transportation investment, especially freight transportation investment, to economic development. State DOTs, MPOs, and business leaders are much more mindful today of the need to maintain and improve the productivity of the transportation system as a strategic competitive advantage than they were 10 or 20 years ago. The lessons learned from the rapid expansion of the domestic economy over the last decade, the challenges of global economic competition, and the prospect of losing market advantage in a recession have brought home the message that the freight transportation system, as much as land cost, labor availability, and tax policy, is critical to economic success.