Freight Challenge Centers on Infrastructure

While the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio prepared its infrastructure for a Professional Golf Association (PGA) tournament that would be beamed around the world, Leo Penne, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) spoke of a different infrastructure – one that is unlikely to make the evening news.

“We’ll need what the sport of golf got from two great golfers if we are to face the great and growing freight infrastructure challenge,” said Penne. He explained that from Arnold Palmer, we learned energy and intensity are important. From Tiger Woods, we learned focus and discipline.

As workers assembled bleachers, stands and camera platforms for the upcoming PGA Tournament, Penne spoke of a different infrastructure challenge, pointing out that while the U.S. had historically been self sufficient, it is now a major trading nation. This has not changed our dependence on the freight transportation infrastructure, he continued, but it necessitates a shift in structure. That challenge is apparent in areas like the Port of Los Angeles. One major retailer has “given up on the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,” Penne told the assembled logistics professionals and government officials. “They can’t get the first 50 miles from the Port of Los Angeles,” he said.

Picking from elements of other speakers’ presentations, Penne noted that just as highlights of some current Supreme Court decisions demonstrated you couldn’t separate the elements of law in the supply chain, you couldn’t separate the elements of infrastructure within the supply chain. If freight railroads can’t make the investment, goods will shift modes. The infrastructure investment shortfall for railroads is estimated at $3 billion per year. The cost in highway maintenance and construction due to the shifts from rail is projected at $21 billion.

In the past, state planners thought of trucks as equal to five cars because they thought like engineers. Now they see the role and benefit of trucks, Penne says. As further encouragement about the change in attitude, Penne says the freight transportation provisions in the current highway bill represent the most recognition of freight in any bill to date.

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