Conference on freight makes the caseWritten by Mary Pat McCarthy | | email@example.com
Integrating transportation modes. Assuring funding. Showing that moving goods is a good business. These were the priorities at a gathering of freight transportation interests hosted in Toledo on Sept. 22 and 23. The 2009 Ohio Conference on Freight hosted by the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG) brought together professionals from throughout Ohio and more than a dozen other states and provinces to address common issues.
Integrating transportation modes
There was a consensus among freight transporters at the conference that we can’t pave our way to success. Using the efficiencies of each mode — highway, rail, water and air — makes the whole transportation system more efficient. An integrated, multimodal system will be faster and better, and will be a source of good jobs.
As an example of public/private cooperation, St. Lawrence Seaway Administrator Terry Johnson, Jr. pointed out that rail and seaway shipping, which have long viewed each other as competitors, are finding common ground. Traditionally, standard shipping containers are off-loaded from ocean-going ships to trains for inland distribution. In discussion, the railroads agreed that some containers might be better shipped by water, including hazardous materials and extremely heavy loads. Anticipating increased movement of shipping containers by river and lake shipping as well as by rail, the Port of Toledo is investing in new cranes that can swing standard containers efficiently.
Government is also fostering partnerships. The Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) is developing Ohio Hubs of Innovation Opportunity (OHIO) which target critical industries including transportation and logistics. Mark Barbash, chief economic development officer at ODOD, said that the department plans to target resources at the OHIO hubs in a “place-based strategy” for business development. According to ODOD’s strategic plan, up to 12 regional hubs will be established. No details were presented about a location for a potential transportation and logistics hub.
Marketing transportation as a source of jobs
People and goods share the same transportation system — with varying levels of comfort. People following trucks on the highway or waiting at a rail crossing may see an impediment to their travel, while they could be appreciating that the freight industry is a source of jobs. Janet Kavinoky in the Congressional and Public Affairs Division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that industry terms like “multimodal” and “infrastructure” will not sell the average person on the value of freight transportation as an industry. But jobs will. She recommends a campaign to help people see every truck and rail crossing as part of a great Ohio industry.
Fair and reliable funding for an integrated freight transportation system was a big topic at the conference. Everyone agrees that the current systems are fragmented, uncertain, and do not treat transportation as an integrated system. Highways are funded through a gasoline consumption tax. Railroads do not pay a national fuel tax, but on the other hand, railroads build and repair their own tracks.
Both highway and rail are part of the federal Surface Transportation Act, but seaports and airports are not. One thing that everyone agreed upon is that we will need to raise more money to build a better-integrated system. New funds will have to be allocated directly to transportation, generally, and freight transportation, specifically.
Where will new money come from? Kavinoky said the U.S. Chamber is advocating for a user fee that would raise gas and diesel taxes. She said trucking companies and related businesses are willing to support a user fee if policy and expenditures address transportation issues. She said research shows that an increase in the gas tax of 8 to 10 cents per gallon would go a long way toward creating a secure source of funding.
Adrienne Gildea, representing the trade group Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC), said that the members of the CAGTC see a need for a federal freight trust fund that would treat the freight transportation system as the nationally integrated system that it is. She suggests that a fund of $8 to $10 billion per year would be a good start. Ohio Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Steve Campbell said the state has tolling authority. Kavinoky said tolling works as a project-financing tool, but isn’t practical on a broad scale.
“What I heard at the 2009 conference is that transportation interests in Ohio and the Great Lakes region are absolutely committed to the development of the freight industry,” said TMACOG President Tony Reams. “And this industry is not a dream, it’s being built right now.”
Reams pointed to the CSX National Gateway with a critical hub in North Baltimore, the extensive investment in development and equipment at the Port of Toledo, and the Airline Junction Intermodal Yard in south Toledo as examples in Northwest Ohio. “No one can build up this industry alone,” Reams said. “I saw a remarkable commitment to consensus, to sharing resources, and driving forward.
Mary Pat McCarthy is TMACOG writer/associate editor.
- Ohio Dept. of Transportation: www.dot.state.oh.us
- Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors: www.tradecorridors.org
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce Let’s Rebuild America program: www.uschamber.com/lra/default
- Ohio Conference on Freight: www.ohiofreight.org
- Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments: www.tmacog.org