Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘supply chain’

Good Things to Hear — Pt. 2

In Efficiency, Infrastructure, Intermodal, Surface Transportation Policy on May 1, 2010 at 11:34 pm

This except from the opening of  “A National Intermodal Shift” by W. Cassidy and J. Boyd of the Journal of Commerce, April 5, 2010:

The Obama administration is forming a national freight transportation policy that can be boiled down to one concept: Get more trucks off the roads.

Key officials are increasingly making it clear they want to move a larger percentage of the nation’s intercity freight by rail or water, to take pressure off congested and crumbling highways and to help improve the environment.

“We want to keep goods movement on water as long as possible, and then on rail as long as possible and truck it for the last miles,” Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari said at a March 24 Senate committee hearing. [emphasis added]

In a single sentence, Porcari described what appears to be the most sweeping change in a generation in the federal government’s approach to shipping and transportation, promising an ambitious and concerted effort to redirect the way freight flows through the country’s long-standing supply networks.

The JOC cover story is intriguing to the reform minded (and unwelcome to the road-minded).  It builds on recent statements made by DOT officials in interviews and Hill hearings.  The view that is emerging from the Secretary’s office is a policy perspective that adheres less to modal stovepipes (and whether there is a pot of money devoted to a stovepipe) and more to intermodal efficiency.  It first asks if a project would provide public benefit and secondarily whether the infrastructure is in public or private hands.  Under Secretary for Policy Roy Kienitz testified at a March 17 House hearing.  He opened by outlining the principles that are guiding the Administration’s developing transportation policy.

Secretary [Ray] LaHood has decided to focus on five key strategic goals as priorities in our national transportation policy – safety, economic competitiveness, state of good repair, livability, and environmental sustainability.  Our policy on freight transportation grows out of our focus on these five key strategic goals. We want a freight policy that will allow us to target our investments on projects that are most effective in allowing us to achieve these goals.

Later in the statement Roy Kienitz said this:

Whether freight infrastructure is publicly-owned or privately-owned, it produces a mix of public and private benefits. Shippers and other customers of the freight transportation system derive private benefits from freight transportation, and the Nation as a whole derives public benefits from our freight transportation infrastructure, whether that infrastructure is publicly or privately owned. Freight that moves on more energy-efficient modes – whether the right-of-way is publicly or privately owned – enhances our energy independence and reduces adverse climate change effects. Freight that moves on a lower-cost right-of-way – whether publicly or privately owned – enhances our economic competitiveness by preserving capital for hiring and additional capital investments. The most sensible freight transportation policy will be one that directs transportation infrastructure investment to where it will have the greatest impact on our desired outcomes, regardless of whether those modes are publicly or privately owned, or whether they have their own source of trust fund revenues.

Given the opportunity to initiate a  multimodal grant program DOT is applying principles like  transportation efficiency and public benefit.  It explains over $300 million in TIGER grants going to expanding double stack rail corridor capacity and to port improvements.

These are not your typical Federally supported projects.  Then again, what we are starting to hear out of 1200 New Jersey Avenue is not your typical transportation policy.   Pbea

Obama Jobs Initiative: Meaning in Missing Words?

In Infrastructure, Ports on December 8, 2009 at 4:19 pm

This is what is in the president’s jobs proposal announced today with respect to infrastructure investment:

2. Investing in America’s Roads, Bridges and Infrastructure

Additional investment in highways, transit, rail, aviation and water. The President is calling for new investments in a wide range of infrastructure, designed to get out the door as quickly as possible while continuing a sustained effort at creating jobs and improving America’s productivity.

Support for merit-based infrastructure investment that leverages federal dollars. The Administration supports financing infrastructure investments in new ways, allowing projects to be selected on merit and leveraging money with a combination of grants and loans as was done through the Recovery Act’s TIGER program.

The second paragraph is a reference to the over-subscribed TIGER grant program for which a broad range of transportation projects are eligible and awardees will be announced no later than February.  The administration has shown an affinity for “merit-based” grants (as opposed to congressional earmarks and formula funding).   USDOT loves it because it puts the Secretary in the position to judge what projects are worth funding and to apply White House principles such as emission reduction.

With so little in the way of detail we might infer from the first paragraph that the Marine Transportation System may not be as much as part of the next jobs bill as it was in ARRA signed in February.  Does the Obama administration include port or marine transportation as eligible for job stimulus funding?  Especially for  the “out the door” quickly category?

Certainly connecting roads and rail are valuable elements of the MTS but when the president’s proposal for infrastructure funding uses the term “water” it may not mean maritime.  I think it means water and sewer infrastructure, which would appeal greatly to capital starved municipal governments but do little for marine highway and other MTS infrastructure needs.

Prior references by Congress and the administration to funding maritime related projects as part of ARRA used the word “port“ along with rail, highway and transit projects.  No mention of port or maritime in the White House statement or the president’s remarks at the Brookings Institution today.

That said, port/maritime projects were eligible for TIGER grants, which the White House appears to want to continue.  But almost by definition TIGER grant money doesn’t flow in a matter of couple months.  The first grant announcements won’t be made until close to a year after the funds were appropriated by Congress in February 2009.  Indeed, I’m told that White House officials said after the president’s remarks that some part of the infrastructure element of the s announcement today may not be intended to pour money into the system over the short term.

The White released an outline today.   The administration and Congress will put flesh on the bones and maybe once the House and Senate take up legislation early next year ports and  marine transportation, including capital needs for marine highway development, will be eligible.

For that to happen, the industry will have to make its case.     Pbea

Rail + Road + Water = Surface Freight System

In Efficiency, Intermodal, Surface Transportation Policy on December 1, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released a study in November comparing truck and rail fuel efficiency.  It’s an update of a 1991 FRA report.

The new study identifies rail as more efficient.  No surprise there.

The report, Comparative Evaluation of Rail and Truck Fuel Efficiency on Competitive Corridors (November 19, 2009), should be useful to Secretary Ray LaHood in developing a new freight policy.  But he should not leave it at road and rail.  Marine transport–the wet surface transportation–should be in the mix.

The Secretary has spoken about the need to understand how marine transportation can be better integrated with the surface transportation system.  He has identified marine highway development–and the capacity it would bring to domestic freight transportation system–as an administration objective.

The MARAD-funded TTI modal comparison report is very helpful in understanding how barge transportation compares to rail and road.  Does that tell us all we need to know?  After all, there’s more to domestic marine freight movement than tugs and barges.  More to the point, there’s more in store for coastwise and inland services than what is on the water today.  How would the planned, new Ro-Ro and container vessels compare to rail and truck?   Policy makers need complete 3-mode data to make complete policy decisions.

The freight logistics industry has pointed to the lack of a national freight policy.  The Freight Stakeholders Coalition announced in May its suggested “platform” for a freight policy.  As the platform suggests the policy should “foster operational and environmental efficiencies in goods movement.”  The platform also calls for the establishment of a “multi-modal freight office” in the Office of the Secretary (OST) in the interest of advancing freight mobility.

A multi-modal view that is not hampered by an old view of how transportation works is what is called for today.  Greater fuel efficiency isn’t an ideological issue.  It’s very much an economic matter to business and a bi-partisan policy matter as we understand the country’s interest in energy security.  Likewise we see environmental issues–emissions, particularly–becoming more of a business and policy concern.

That’s why the developers of the GIFT model are attracting interest.   Dr. James Corbett of the University of Delaware and Dr. James Winebrake of the Rochester Institute of  Technology–with the support of USDOT, MARAD and others–are developing the Geospatial Intermodal Freight Transportation (GIFT) model.  GIFT enables the fuel and emission comparison of modes for specific freight routes.  In other words, logistics planners soon will have a tool that goes beyond the one-sided “carbon calculator” analysis available on some rail and marine transportation company websites.

Corbett and Winebrake add further value with their IF-TOLD Mitigation Framework that they describe as “A Context for Mode Shifting Discussions.”

Some good work is being done to provide more information for making modal decisions and enable the development of smarter freight policy.  With any luck the policy makers will determine what multi-modal information is available as well as what additional information is needed before deciding on a long overdue national freight policy and the successor to SAFETEA-LU.   Pbea

Rendell Bets on a Delay

In Infrastructure, Surface Transportation Policy on September 25, 2009 at 7:44 am

Governor Ed Rendell, a leading figure in the call for infrastructure reform and investment in the U.S., said that any surface transportation bill that Congress could pass this year would be a “very mediocre bill in terms of the needs of the country.”

In a story yesterday by Bob Edmonson of the Journal of Commerce the governor acknowledged, “In one sense a delay is hurtful, but in another sense the delay would give us a chance to look at new ideas, and build new concepts, and try to get a bill that will really revolutionize.”  Rendell spoke at a American Road and Transportation Builders Association conference.

The governor apparently assumes that the Senate and Administration will succeed in getting an 18 month extension of  the expiring SAFETEA-LU.  Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) on the House side doesn’t want to put off major revenue and policy decisions that long.

On September 23rd when the House debated, and passed, a three month extension, through December, Steven LaTourette (R-OH) agreed that action is needed now.  His House Republican leadership opted to object to a prospective gas tax hike, which was not even on the table, rather than identify themselves with the need to maintain highway and transit programs.  LaTourette stood in the well–exasperated, looking at his own party members–and said, “I am constantly amazed at how both parties are able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”  He foresees his party in the months ahead fighting a major transportation bill in the cause for low taxes.

In a recession the desire to improve the economic environment for employment is genuine and politically vital.  It’s easy to understand the impatience.  Oberstar and others want to move as quickly as possible to produce a 5-year, $450 Bn transportation bill.   Then again, there is that knotty problem of how to pay for it, as noted in this prior posting.

Whatever other thinking may be behind Governor Rendell’s frank remarks to the “road builders” he makes an important point.  On the surface is this one:  Jim Oberstar may be ready to move a bill but the Senate and administration are not.  But Rendell seems to go deeper than that.  Crafting a major bill, with its inherently difficult revenue issues and bearing the weight of expectations that this one must break new policy ground, will take more time.

Rendell is right.  After reaching the pinnacle that is SAFETEA-LU we don’t need another “mediocre” bill.   The hearing record of recent years is loaded with testimony calling on Congress to not repeat past mistakes and, as the governor put it, to produce “a bill that will really revolutionize.”  Freight policy, high-speed rail, transportation policy in a new energy/environment policy framework, performance measures, marine highways, livable communities, and the broader question raised by the Secretary as to how to integrate the MTS more fully into surface transportation policy.  These are just some of the policy challenges.

The Oberstar bill is a clear step in that direction.  And while the Senate committees have been plotting their TEA contributions the administration can’t say the same.  The White House and the Department of Transportation, which remains immersed in implementing the economic stimulus package with its multi-billion dollar new programs,  are nowhere near ready to be a full participant in the crucial dialogue on next generation surface transportation program and policy.  It will take more time.   Pbea

The Grass is Greener – Pt.1

In Federal Government on August 19, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Envy is a perfectly serviceable starting point for developing national transportation policy.  Our new high-speed rail program is an apt example.  It’s a Euro-inspired, greenish gleam in a candidate’s eye made billion-dollar real by our new president and the stimulus package.  While we wait for our first bullet-ride to Disney World or Albany let’s consider what the national transportation policies of other countries are accomplishing. We will start with our friends to the north who want Canada to be the continent’s gateway.   To Memphis.

Canada Gateways

The Canada’s Gateways program is impressive.  Watching a visiting transportation official give a presentation on it is like listening to a nice kid tell of his elegant plan to steal your lunch.  As he speaks it sinks in that you will go hungry that day; you slowly grasp your trumpet case to make sure he doesn’t walk away with it also.  The adult response is to admire the strategic thinking and implementation…while watching one’s lunch walk away.

The Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative is especially impressive. Short Pacific crossings by Asian cargo to new and expanded ports.  Then double stacked boxes onto improved CN and CP freight lines that run down to the American Midwest and Mississippi corridor.  Public and private money.  Public and private roles.  One national strategy.

And here’s something to make you reach for the pink stuff:  the still young Port of Prince Rupert just posted a 124% increase in containers (1st half 2009 over 1st half 2008) in one of the worst global economies ever.   That it only handled under 100,000 TEUs in these 6 months is of little consolation to US Pacific ports who face an efficient rail corridor to the north and a new canal corridor to open in Panama.

Freight stakeholders in the U.S. are pressing decision makers in Washington and gateway states to adopt favorable gateways and corridors policies to address national goods movement needs on all coasts.  Lucky for them inspiration is just a mouse click away in the federal role discussion on the “Canada’s Gateways” website.

“Coherent action requires a systems-based approach, and real partnerships with provincial governments and the private sector. Success will depend upon how well the key players — public and private — coalesce around a coherent vision. A key factor in the successful development of the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative was the extent to which a stakeholder- driven consensus had taken shape over a number of years.  ….  Actions should complement current market-oriented transportation policies, with governments creating a positive climate for private investment in gateway infrastructure, while safeguarding the public interest.”

Pbea


MTSNAC Today…and Tomorrow?

In Federal Government on July 22, 2009 at 1:02 pm

The Marine Transportation System National Advisory Council was established in May 2000 to serve and advise the Secretary of Transportation.  Its public and private sector stakeholder members have, for the most part, served three year terms.  (This writer served a term on the council and remains involved.)

The MTSNAC was there in 2001 to provide guidance to the Secretary on the very practical considerations pertaining to cargo flow when the Feds stood up security measures and new law after the Towers fell.  It prepared instructive presentations on global logistics with the intent to explain a little understood system to Washington policy makers.   It produced recommendations for the Secretary as to how new government policies and private sector actions can result in greater efficiency to goods movement.

This year the future of MTSNAC is under consideration.  Will it be extended beyond 2009?  Will it be reconstituted with changes?  Will it be terminated?  Those are options that have been suggested by various parties at USDOT.  The thinking in the Secretary’s Office on this may become known this week when MTSNAC meets here in Washington.  Perhaps its last meeting.

This much is evident.  Goods movement and the global supply chain are playing increasingly significant roles in the U.S. economy and have exposed where our national transportation system, including the MTS, warrants improvement and high level attention.  As such the leadership of USDOT would continue to benefit by having an advisory panel whose members include the non-Federal agencies and industries that are stewards, service providers and users of the marine transportation system.   Pbea

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