Chain of Thought

Your Chance to Shape Freight Policy

There aren't many things as complex as our country's transportation system. And because it's owned by a mix of public and private users, efforts to improve it have been mixed over the years. This patchwork approach to maintaining the national transportation infrastructure has taken a toll. Many parts of it a worn out, and our fragile economy is threatened by major shipping delays that could result from structural failures.

Recognizing this unprecedented threat, the Departments of Transportation and Commerce are taking unprecedented steps to forestall a crisis by reaching out for public feedback on major trouble spots around the country. They are soliciting practical and creative suggestions and solutions from the shipping public via a series of focused regional forums.

This is your chance to address DOT and DOC directly, from somewhere near your home town rather than through a Washington, DC mouthpiece. Why is this so important now? Harry Haney, chairman of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity and associate director of transportation planning at Kraft Foods, cites the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA) as an example. As I've noted in a previous blog, SETA would increase the weight that can be carried in a trailer by about 20%. However, this wouldn't help much if every state had a different policy on allowable trailer weights. Even if SETA passes, changes will still be gradual because it won't be a national mandate. States must individually opt-in to the legislation.

“SETA gives states the option to set interstate weight limits of up to 97,000 pounds on interstate highways within their borders,” Haney told me. “Further, SETA gives states the ability to restrict operation of heavier vehicles to certain stretches of highway.”

This has implications inside your four walls, too. Shippers will need to evaluate any potential adjustments in material handling equipment or practices they may need to gain the maximum supply chain benefits from this legislation.

This is just one of the agenda items The DOT and DOC want to hear from you about. While the prospect of shipping more efficient truck loads may be attractive to you, the current infrastructure may not be able to handle them until they get some much needed maintenance. The question is, if Congress passes SETA, will they also renew funding for the surface transportation bill which is currently on life support?

The DOT and DOC hope that by hearing from the public directly through these regional forums they'll gather mightier ammunition to make their case in Washington, DC. Ronald F. Stowe was instrumental in organizing these forums. He's the former head of government relations for two Fortune 100 companies and currently president of RFS Strategies, LLC, a consulting firm.

“Due to the global nature of manufacturing, very few companies large or small don't get their components from multiple carriers in this country or multiple countries around the world,” he told MH&L. “The ability to ship in a timely and reliable way affects their ability to compete. To get the attention of congress requires the general public to speak up.”

Here are the locations where you'll be able to do that:

The Southeast Regional Exchange takes place in Atlanta September 17, 8:45am to 4:00pm at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. To participate, contact Page Siplon at 912-966-7867 or e-mail [email protected]

The Chicago Regional Supply Chain and Competitiveness Exchange takes place September 22, 12:00 noon to 4:45 pm at DLA Piper LLP (US). Contact Ben Wollitz, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 312-494-6704 or [email protected]

In addition, in collaboration with the Ports of Tacoma, Portland, and Seattle, a forum is planned for the Pacific Northwest, to be held in Seattle on Thursday, October 28. October 2010. Contact Ronald Stowe at 571-218-5381 or [email protected]

Finally, if you'll be in San Diego for the CSCMP Annual Conference, put September 29th on your calendar. There will be a “Mega-Session” on the connection between national freight policy and supply chain infrastructure competitiveness. It will be a facilitated panel discussion among senior-level executives, led by Assistant Secretary Nicole Lamb-Hale from DOC's International Trade Administration (ITA) and Tony Furst, Acting DAS for Transportation Policy at DOT. The panel will include senior executives from state government, major port operations, carriers, and shippers. Shippers have never been granted so much access to people who can actually get things done in Washington. But you have to make the next move. Get involved for your own good.

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