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Wanted: Presidential candidates opinions on transportation infrastructure

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
August 23, 2012

In the freight-related world we live in, the topic of transportation infrastructure is never far from top of mind.

Following nine extensions, excuse me, I mean “continuing resolutions” of SAFETEA-LU prior to MAP-21 being signed into law, it is not hard to understand why either. After all, without a strong transportation infrastructure system (which is not necessarily the case), freight movements and commerce in general are collectively and individually challenged to say the least.

That is why I was very encouraged to see that the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) today sent letters to President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney to offer up their views on U.S. transportation infrastructure, with an onus on freight transportation, along with their views on the following: the rising costs of energy; greenhouse gas emissions, and security impacts on transportation.

In a statement issued by the NITL, its president and CEO Bruce Carlton said his members have various concerns when it comes to U.S. transportation infrastructure and the problems shippers face “moving products efficiently and effectively,” with a heightened emphasis on identifying new sources of funding to meet both the growing demands on U.S. infrastructure, as well as resourced needed to maintain the existing system.

Carlton requested in his letter to Obama that the President provide his perspective on what new initiatives might be expected in his second term if re-elected, and in his letter to Romney he requested details on what his Administration would undertake to address the same issues, according to the NITL statement.

“It is important to the future of the economic health of our nation that we understand how both candidates will address these vital areas,” said Carlton.

And in the respective letters to Obama and Romney he stressed that with system congestion worsening and infrastructure in all modes “in dire need of additional capacity and simple maintenance, bold new leadership and new ideas on effective ways to meet these national challenges must be offered beyond the current reauthorization measure,” adding that “our Highway Trust Fund, financed by a fixed gasoline tax, is nearly bankrupt. High energy costs, higher fuel efficiency in our vehicles, and the introduction of hybrid vehicles have all contributed to a lower level of fund receipts even as the cost of maintaining and building new roads has been increasing.”

Carlton also cited other transportation infrastructure-related issues and challenges, including:
-how other nations are making large investments into transportation infrastructure, with international markets in which the U.S. was once competitive in are being lost to overseas companies because they can move products cheaper and faster than the U.S.;
-U.S. exports from farms and factories are being negatively impacted by a U.S. transportation system “that has failed to be adequately maintained or modernized to meet the demands of a competitive marketplace”;
-the need for a new vision and new transportation resources in order for the economy to grow; and
-increasing energy costs which have had a negative effect on transportation service suppliers, service users, and consumers.

The NITL and Carlton have done an outstanding job in highlighting the role a strong transportation infrastructure network can play in fostering economic growth and leveraging it as a domestic strength.

But the bitter pill to swallow here is that neither candidate has barely, if at all, mentioned any of these issues, as they ostensibly appear to be at or near the bottom of “spoken” priorities or goals on the campaign trail. That in itself is nothing new, as Obama and John McCain did not exactly “play up” transportation infrastructure when making their case for the oval office four years ago, although Obama did at least offer up ideas focusing on the creation of a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to expand and enhance existing federal transportation investments, and other calls for modernizing the nation’s outdated air traffic control system, increase Amtrak funding, support development of high-speed rail, modernizing infrastructure on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers for barges as well as how to improve public transportation and transportation planning.

So, here we are again four years later with many—if not more—of the same challenges. It is hard to read the tea leaves, but the path of U.S. transportation growth looks like it will be an interesting ride all the same. Stay tuned.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
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. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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