A full plate for Anthony Foxx

New Department of Transportation Secretary will need to hit the ground running in order to best address the myriad tasks at hand in his new gig.

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Being the “new guy” in any job is not always easy. There are new names to remember in the office and you need to figure out where basic things like the cafeteria and the copy machine are located.

And in the case of the new United States Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, you, or he rather, needs to come up with ways in which to lead the nation on all matters transportation. That is a broad view to be sure, but I think a wide net is appropriate, given the ongoing challenges we face as a nation, as well as a still slower than faster economic recovery.

While Foxx does not have a Washington background, he does come from a high-profile position as Mayor of Charlotte, N.C., during which time he was active on multiple transportation-related fronts, including: the Charlotte Streetcar Project, an electric trolley system; the expansion of its LYNX light-rail system; and the development of a 200-acre facility in conjunction with Class I railroad carrier Norfolk Southern connecting freight from Charlotte to global ports as well as the addition of a third parallel runway at the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.

These are credible and impressive achievements for Foxx and the city he previously led. But he is in Charlotte no more, instead, he is now front and center in a city where being pessimistic, churlish, and negative could be considered a varsity sport by most accounts.

Putting the political dysfunction in the nation’s capital aside for a moment, it might be good to take a look at some of the freight- and supply chain-specific things Foxx and his DOT team will need to monitor, address and further develop.

Leading of, we have working with Congress to plan the next steps for a longer-term solution for MAP-21, which is due to expire in October 2014 i.e. much sooner than you think, and when it does we can only wonder (at this point) if it will be propped up by an endless strong of extensions, more formally known as continuing resolutions, or, and more ideally, maybe, just maybe there will be a real bipartisan effort made to come up with new, multi-year legislation that addresses the needs of all major freight transportation stakeholders.

A major component of this aforementioned legislation is how to pay for it and that is when the federal gasoline tax, unchanged since 1994, comes into play. As reported here, there continues to be a shortfall in with gas tax funding, meaning we are paying out more than we are collecting; this insolvency has been intact for several years, and, yet, it continues to fall on deaf (Washington) ears. There has been some movement on the gasoline tax on a state level in some cases but clearly more needs to be done to get Congress to “buy in” and modestly up the tax so we can efficiently pay for and modernize our decaying transportation infrastructure, which has received D-level grades from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

There are obviously several more things to cite but there is not enough room here to properly pay heed to them, but among the other notables are: how the new HOS regulations play out and impact the trucking sector, as well as EOBRs down the road; the fate of Positive Train Control and how it changes or does not change railroad operations; and going deep on the Harbor Maintenance Tax to ensure ports have the resources they need to accommodate the larger vessels coming on line in the coming years, among many others. 

Regardless of the many challenges and tasks Foxx faces, it appears he is fully aware of them and is up for the challenge. That was evident at his Senate Commerce Committee hearing in May, when he laid out some key components of his agenda.

Foxx told Committee members he plans to focus on three key areas:
-ensuring the U.S. transportation system is the safest in the world as it was for current Secretary Ray LaHood;
-improving the efficiency and performance of the country’s existing transportation system through better use of technology, data, economic analysis, and private sector innovation, such as public-private partnerships, to bring more private sector capital and innovation into the infrastructure market; and
-build the country’s infrastructure to meet the needs of the next generation of Americans

“The private sector cannot do this alone, and the federal government has a responsibility to help ensure our global competitiveness, by investing in a robust, multimodal transportation system, a stronger national freight network, and key innovations like NextGen and advanced roadway and rail technology,” Foxx said. “As a Mayor who has delivered projects to my constituents, I know too well that future uncertainty at the Federal level makes it difficult to do smart cost-effective long-term planning and project development.”

With the ball now in his court, Foxx has to make sure his playbook is ready to navigate the many transportation obstacles that lay ahead.

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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