Freight shipping and carrier concerns addressed at policy forum

Economic growth threatened by aging infrastructure and congestion

News AASHTO Journal May 21, 2007
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Shippers and carriers met in late March to discuss issues confronting the goods movement industry in the U.S. and found they have many similar concerns, but different approaches to solving them as the nation is faced with an increasing demand to move freight from shores to stores and in between.

The forum was sponsored by the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) and the Association of Transportation Law Professionals, DC Velocity reports.

The journal reports that both communities agree there is a need to address the nation's aging transportation infrastructure and mounting traffic congestion because it threatens future economic growth. They also agree that shippers and carriers of all modes must work together to persuade Congress, regulators, and state legislators that the issues are urgent. Now the challenge is to translate their shared goals into action, which has previously been a stumbling block.

This year, the issue of capacity and related concerns over infrastructure, congestion, and security initiatives dominated the discussion at a recent day-long forum.

DC Velocity reports NITL president John Ficker saying that collaboration among all parties will be required to overcome the issues facing shippers and carriers. "Shippers and carriers are some of the most ingenious people I've met," Ficker said. "They figure out how to resolve issues. But how many rabbits are left inside the hat? We can't do this in a modal silo environment. It is necessary to take a holistic view of freight."

Ficker said that capacity was one of NITL's two major concerns, with the other being security. He emphasized the government and independent projections for the amount of freight to double by 2030 to 2035. "Even if that's half right," he said, "it's a problem."

Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Association (ATA) added that the transportation industry is likely to start feeling the pinch long before that. His group projects freight tonnage will increase 30 % in the next 10 to 12 years across all major modes--with rail intermodal growing fastest. Graves said that one of the most immediate concerns will be finding labor, noting that the ATA expects the trucking industry will need 100,000 new drivers by 2014 -- 41% to replace retirees and 59% to absorb the growth in freight.

Graves said the ATA's top legislative issue in coming years will be the reauthorization of the federal highway spending bill, which expires in 2009. "Congress needs to recommit itself to a national program with freight a huge part of that," DC Velocity reported Graves as saying.

Edward Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads, said, "Capacity is constrained across all modes. It is going to get more challenging in the next 20 years. The thrust of every one of the studies is clear. There will be more and more demand for freight movement. That's a good thing, but infrastructure is becoming strained across all modes."

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