Marine Transportation System

Our Turn to Pay the Freight

In Infrastructure, Surface Transportation Policy on September 9, 2009 at 5:21 pm
PBS "Blueprint America" Documentary:  "Keep on Trucking?"

PBS "Blueprint America" Documentary: "Keep on Trucking?"

Blueprint America is the PBS infrastructure series.  The series is one of the best I have seen on the subject, not that there is much competition on TV in this category.  Keep on Trucking? has the virtue of being taped in my Garden State, where men are men and women are truck drivers who train the men.

The segment reported by Miles O’Brien covers our reliance on trucking and the 50+ year old interstate highway model.  He reports on the benefits and limitations of the rail freight system.  He covers how trucking and rail compete and cooperate (“the term of art is intermodal”).  He introduces community concerns via New Jersey’s Ironbound, which is adjacent to the Newark container terminals.  And O’Brien overlays the  fact that Congress will have to replace SAFETEA-LU and face the political conundrum of taxes, with Jim Oberstar’s (D-MN) foot on the House accelerator.

Part of the value of this particular “…Trucking?” segment, as one individual awkwardly said, is the need “to look at the network of this nation as a whole” and “how these two modes can be interfaced in the most efficient way”.   “A freight relay if you will,” Miles O’Brien added, “… trains and trucks each doing the part of the job they do most economically, then passing the baton.”

Of course that topic deserves a 24-minute segment of its own…but not one limited only to two surface modes.

Predictably marine transportation was not mentioned.  Considering the key points made in the piece the marine highway should have been included in the “network of this nation.”  The water mode applies to the ideas of intermodal operation, efficiency, congestion mitigation, and the need to think outside the 1950s highway model.  As one voice noted, “it’s about retooling the freight infrastructure so American business can compete in the global marketplace.”  Not about maintaining the primacy of road and rail, one might add.

Miles O’Brien alluded to the fact that arriving at a new policy will not be easy.  “There is no love lost in the fight over infrastructure dollars.”  Bill Graves of the American Trucking Association asserted that the public shouldn’t be “deluded” that rail is “the answer”…the Association of American Railroads‘ ad campaign notwithstanding.

O’Brien expressed no particular confidence that Congress will adopt a new model.  He spoke of an American consumer trait, taking things for granted–“plentiful, high quality goods, delivered fast and cheap”–and made possible seemingly “like magic.”  Not willing to make it easy on voter or legislator, he said “it is actually about planning ahead and making big investments.”  The generation that built the interstate system did it.  “Now it may be our turn to pay the freight.”   Pbea

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