In my Part One posting on this topic, I commented on the lack of a comprehensive U.S. transportation strategy that addresses the near and longer-term needs of both supporting commerce and people transport.
In this part two posting, I will share my additional observations that a network plan that addresses how freight, passenger, air, and other transportation infrastructure link together to insure cost-efficient transportation and mobility in the U.S. has yet to be identified and agreed to. It seems to me that industry groups, lobbyists, and legislative entities are doing just the opposite- advocating for their special interests, either trucking, railroad, or air, vs. a required overall framework.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a special luncheon sponsored by the Council of Logistics Management (CSCMP), New England Roundtable. The guest speakers were Representative James McGovern (D-MA), and Mr. James Aloisi Jr., Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Both speakers spoke of similar themes, namely that the U.S. needs to invest in transportation, but that these investments must be prioritized among many other tough choices among legislative leaders. Much has been spent on economic stimulus, and government must insure that future spending leverages a maximum return. The six year highway transportation bill is scheduled for renewal in September of this year, and this has once again prompted debate over specific long-term priorities. Both speakers also mentioned the need to link infrastructure investments with both national and regional priorities. All of this made sense.
However, in the backdrop of Washington politics, we still read of the same special interest politics. An article penned by Jeff Berman of Logistics Management indicates how truckers, through the ATA and other interests, apparently want Congress to pave the way for heavier trucks on U.S. highways. These interests accuse others of favoring “pro-railroad” legislation that caps current weight limits. They advocate that the answer to long-term transportation efficiency is larger and heavier trucks on the highways. The Obama administration has indicated that as much as $17 billion in additional federal money is needed just to maintain roads and bridges over the next two years.
Again I state, where’s the plan that outlines national priorities? Key questions that I feel need to be resolved include:
- – How much money should be invested in roads vs. other strategic investments like bridges, rail or port facilities? Existing allocation of funds collected for the Highway Trust Fund is primarily allocated to highways. Does the U.S. need a broader trust fund that financially supports investments in these other infrastructure needs?
- – Which U.S. cities should be designated for regional high-speed rail transportation service vs. air?
- – Will freight and passenger rail lines be shared or independent? Is there a need for a state-wide plan to resolve right-of-way liabilities? Both Secretary Aloisi and Congressmen McGovern cited how certain railroads continue to demand total liability exclusion for the any passenger use of their right-of-way. It seems that the spirit of compromise has not seen the light of day.
- – Do U.S. legislators have the backbone to increase transportation use taxes in order to fund and allocate a national transportation strategy? Are there more innovative means of funding?
I would feel comfort that some form of a comprehensive plan is being developed. Thus far, the Obama administration has shown the willingness for bold thinking and comprehensive planning. That challenge needs to move toward a broad transportation plan that transcends lobbyists and special-interests. In my view, government and industry need to step-up with creative plans and proven expertise.