Marine Transportation System

Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

What TIGER Tells Us

In Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on February 23, 2010 at 12:39 pm

No, not that Tiger.

The eagerly awaited TIGER grants were announced last week.  An experiment in government.  Against their better judgment members of the House and Senate gave $1.5 billion to the Administration and left it to the discretion of USDOT program managers, modal administrators, the Secretary (and perhaps the White House, just in case) to decide what projects were worthy.  (Egads! The bureaucrats!)

The multimodal discretionary grants program—later assigned a name and acronym at USDOT—was created a year ago in the cauldron in which Congress cooked up the economic recovery package.  The context was job creation in a failing economy.  But the genius of TIGER’s tenacious sponsors—most visibly Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)—was that it also was a good time to try something different.  Politics would always be lurking in the background (if not in the foreground) when doling out tax revenue for public works but this was not a time for the earmarking norm.

Also lurking was the thought: if this works it could set the example for a change in transportation policy.

Lisa Caruso of the National Journal asks in her transportation “experts” blog if TIGER should be replicated in the surface transportation authorization bill.  Can it serve as a model for the revised policy and programs that many of us look for in the bill?

So far the respondents (scroll thru the page) generally agree there is benefit in the approach.  What’s not to like? Livable community folks liked the selection of street car and pedestrian path projects.  Goods movement was given a strong boost with around $300 million going to rail projects.  And it was good to see that at least one of the promising marine highway initiatives was granted $30 million.  (The first of many one hopes.)  That award illustrates how TIGER–and Secretary Ray LaHood–was open to more than the usual road, transit and bike path projects.

By and large, very good projects were selected.  But the question posed by Caruso is whether TIGER represents a policy approach worth continuing.

Some of the respondents think TIGER is a good starting point but that it is important to change the underlying policy.   In particular Steve Heminger notes it is not enough to create a grants program that is mode neutral.  An improved Federal policy and program should have a clearer, focused national perspective e.g., goods movement and metropolitan mobility.  It is a view I share.

Bob Poole raises an important policy question worth debating by suggesting an underlying weakness of a multimodal approach if a highway tax is the sole source of support.

One person’s response I would be interested to see is that of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).  In January 2009 the chair of EPW, which is to produce highway and other portions of the next authorization bill, flatly opposed the multimodal discretionary grants provision in the draft Senate stimulus bill, even as Heminger and other Californians welcomed the idea of a mode-neutral program and projects judged on their merits.  Boxer and others in the transportation leadership of Capitol Hill will decide whether the TIGER approach is just a brief detour from projects as usual.   Pbea

Toward Developing MTS Related Policy

In Federal Government, Leadership, MTS Policy, Surface Transportation Policy on February 15, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Sitting the USDOT leadership in front of an audience has become a bit of a tradition each January.   Most of the brass, sans Secretary LaHood, appeared en panel at the recent TRB annual convention.  The policy and modal chiefs offered brief overviews as to what is on their plates.  Here are notes from two that have particular relevance to MTS related policy.

Under Secretary for Policy Roy Kienitz covered the big item — the next surface transportation authorization bill.   This year the Secretary’s office will pull together recommendations for the Obama White House to consider in preparing a package for Congress.

Roy stated the vision:  A renewed sense of strong federal leadership in transportation centered on meeting national needs.

He defined national needs: safety, state of good repair, economic competitiveness, livability, and environ sustainability.

The department’s priorities: organizing programs around those needs and recommending ideas to congress.

The challenges he described:  getting Americans excited about the vision and finding a politically acceptable way to pay for it.

David Matsuda, the Maritime Administration’s acting Administrator, is awaiting Senate confirmation.  He offered his take on what is what is driving the need to develop a vision for the marine transportation system as it applies to nation’s economic competitiveness.

The Panama Canal widening has the potential to significantly alter land and water routes.  Add to that potential changes relating to the use of the Suez, an Artic route, etc.    In short, we’re facing a whole new freight delivery market.

The Federal government must play an active role such as help “coordinate” investments in port access and intermodal connectors.  Few studies and data are available.  MARAD is commissioning a study to fully explore the impacts of a widened canal on our transportation system.

David said the study outcome is expected to shape national policies and help assess the capacity of channels, connections, etc.  He spoke of the need to factor in the capacity of port terminals and landside connections, the ingenuity of port authorities and terminal operators, and the competitive measures Canada and Mexico ports will take.  To understand how fuel prices affect freight economics.   And to identify marine highways to relieve surface congestion and move goods in a more energy efficient manner on the water.

There’s work to be done at the Department of Transportation.  And plenty reason for the freight community to plug into it.   Pbea

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.