No economy will ever grow faster than its transportation network can carry it.

Look around your home or office, and consider how you are surrounded by products that had to be shipped from somewhere else in the U.S. or beyond.

Next, look around your community and consider how the products made here reach markets far across the U.S. or beyond.

Maine plays an important role in the national freight system. That translates into jobs and wealth, both of which are threatened when bottlenecks result from the lack of a national freight policy and the insufficient federal funding of freight infrastructure.

A new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows how post-recession increases of freight traffic are significantly straining the rail system’s ability to deliver goods.

There is a double whammy: Raw materials and consumer products are late reaching their destinations, yet they also cost more to ship. The missed profits and increased expenses are passed along to consumers.

Congress must pass a new federal transportation bill to replace MAP-21, which expires May 31. We must take this opportunity to establish the first coordinated policies and dedicated funding for U.S. freight. The new bill should authorize at least $2 billion per year for freight infrastructure while giving regions such as yours a greater voice in how such investments are made.

Freight is our competitive advantage, yet we’re losing ground rapidly to Canada, Mexico and other countries that are stepping up investments in their rail infrastructure.

As Americans, each of us must call upon Congress to seize this moment and address the challenge of freight as an integral driver of the U.S. economy.

Joe Szabo

senior fellow, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

former administrator, Federal Railroad Administration, 2009-15

Chicago