Transportation leaders gather for summit, freight conferenceWritten by Duane Ramsey | | email@example.com
The Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG) presented the event as a lead-in to the Ohio Conference on Freight Sept. 15 to 17. It included numerous workshops with local, regional and national speakers, a reception and dinner with national keynote speaker Mortimer Downey.
“There is a lack of national vision or commitment to transportation,” said Downey, a former U.S. deputy secretary of transportation who managed the department’s strategic-planning process for eight years. “We are far from sustaining the system we have let alone the needs of the future, and it’s causing a lot of concern. This is a federal concern, and time is the critical element. They have to do something quickly.
“The transportation policy needs to shift, but it usually doesn’t happen quickly. We need to get things started now and do it right.
“We can and should be doing a better job of moving goods in this country. Failure to make that investment in transportation infrastructure is going to have serious repercussions. We just haven’t come to grips with how to pay for it. The feds think the private sector should invest more in that infrastructure.
“It’s hard to get a consensus of effort on freight and transportation at the federal level.”
Congress is beginning to consider those needs. An authorization bill in the legislature will address the current transportation needs, but most important is that it must reflect the needs of the 21st century, said Downey, chairman of the board of PB Consult Inc.
“Moving freight is going to require serious planning and investment. Providing capital investment to create that movement will require changes in the way we move it,” he said.
“Transportation must be our priority. Our business is transportation and it depends on moving freight,” said William Carroll, chairman of the board for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.
Carroll reminded the audience that Gov. Ted Strickland’s economic stimulus package, Building Ohio Jobs, includes $100 million for transportation and jobs in the state.
“We don’t have the money to maintain the commitments ODOT has made in 2008,” said David Dysard, deputy director of Ohio Department of Transportation District 2.
Even with a $660 million budget and only 3 percent coming from federal funds, Ohio still ranks 48th among the states in support of public transportation, Dysard said.
“We’ve lost 43 percent of our purchasing power due to inflation in the cost of goods and services. The costs are killing us. It’s one of our biggest challenges. We’re looking for future efficiencies to reduce those costs,” he said.
Revenues flattened out and are declining due to a reduced consumption of gasoline. Despite the increased cost of gasoline, the state only receives 48 cents per gallon no matter what a gallon costs, Dysard said.
The uncertain solvency of the Federal Highway Trust Fund is another concern. There is a shortfall in that fund, said Fred Abousleman, executive director of the National Association of Regional Councils, who works closely with TMACOG.
“We have to maintain the infrastructure, which is critical to our country’s economy. We don’t have enough funding to maintain what we have or what we need in the future,” Abousleman said.
He estimated it would cost $225 billion to maintain the existing system over the next 50 years. Transportation accounts for 3 percent of all federal expenditures or 1 percent of the gross national product spent on infrastructure, while China is spending 9 percent and India 3.5 percent of their Gross National Product (GNP) on transportation.
“We need to take a regional approach that focuses on all forms of transportation in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan,” said Jerry Wingate, president of Alexis Transit System Inc. and the Toledo Trucking Association.
The region has the strategic geography with air, land, rail and waterways to compete for intermodal transportation business and facilities, said Richard Martinko, director of the Intermodal Transportation Institute at UT.
With intermodal sites in Cleveland, Columbus, Chicago, Detroit and Fort Wayne, Ind., Toledo is in a position to fill the gap at the west end of Lake Erie, Martinko said.
Within a 100-mile radius of Toledo, the region has six million people and $270 billion in GNP, making it the eighth largest region or equal to the 17th largest state in the country. The Great Lakes mega-region is one of 10 emerging mega-regions in the country, he said.
The region has three of the top 11 gateways for freight traffic with Interstate 80 Interstate 90 running east and west, and Interstate 75 and U.S. 23 running north and south; three class-one railroads; a world-class port and an airport strategically situated for freight traffic.
“You can get there from here. We have the pieces for regional economic development and the opportunity for growth,” Martinko said.