Archive for the ‘ITTS blog’ Category

Freight Advisory Council and State DOT’s

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

The current MAP-21 calls for freight plans to consider outreach to private sector freight interests.  (Sec 1117).   One of the challenges is oftentimes the time scale for public and private decision making is fairly off.  For example, the planning cycle for a private sector project may be five years, while a public sector project may be much longer…

There is a talking freight seminar on freight advisory councils  (If you have any questions, please contact Jennifer Symoun, SAIC, 703-318-4267 or

Some other resources on working between public and private sector groups are:

(NCFRP) Report 8: Freight-Demand Modeling to Support Public-Sector Decision Making
I also did a presentation for the West Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce where I discussed the difference between public and private sector investment.

Aviation, Transportation and Sparrows

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

I came upon the following picture of airplanes taking off from Hannover airport, and it reminded me a flock of sparrows launching from a tree.  (

I am not going to lecture about the importance of air travel, etc., but normally, we think about transportation as items of one:  one truck, one plane, one barge, one train… but in relativity it is an ongoing conveyor belt of material, components and people.  It is a system that works, but in many ways, it is a system that always seem to be staining at the limits of what could be, going everywhere in a hurry.



March Newsletter 2013 – Scuffy the Tugboat and Rivers of Freight

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Recently, I gave a speech where I mentioned Scuffy the Tugboat. For those not familiar with the story, Scuffy is a toy tugboat  who travels from a little stream to the mouth  of a large river. In reflecting upon this story, I realized that, when talking about transportation planning and policy, we tend to focus  on two areas: the broad stroke of the system  (what I call the “Big F” of freight) or the local,  smaller shipments (what I call the “little f”).  Oftentimes, it is the “Big F” that gets the attention, such as the growth in international trade or a trade lane between two markets,  ports and/or border crossings. We tend to overlook the “little f,” which includes the local bakery, grocery store, and small manufacturing plant, all of whom receive and generate  freight shipments.

These small firms are important to the nation. For example, there are over 5.7 million firms in the United States, of which 5.1 million  firms have fewer than twenty employees. For the ITTS region, there are almost 1 million  firms, of which roughly 88% are firms with  less than 20 employees. At the same time, there are roughly 293,000 firms engaged  in exporting, of which roughly 97.8% were  small- to medium-sized companies.

The complexity arises when we tend to  think about national policy in the terms  of the “Big F”, but then consider our own  regional needs as a mix of both “Big F” and  “little f ” elements. But clearly, we do not  necessarily think about the system as being  beyond our respective state borders. According to the Freight Analysis Framework, trading among the SASHTO states is the region’s largest freight flow, followed by intrastate  trade within the member states. Regionally, freight movements internal to the region  accounted for 60% of the tonnage moved  in 2010. The other movements consisted of  international trade or shipments with other  domestic U.S. markets.

The need to look at the regional importance of these corridors becomes important,  both in supporting the primary freight  network as outlined by MAP-21, but also to  improving our own regional economies. So,  it is important to the region to see itself as  a series of corridors (or “My River” as Scuffy  would say).

At the end of the story, Scuffy was scared as he headed out to the ocean, only to be  rescued by the “Man with the Polka Dot  Tie”. In some ways, the economic clouds  and waves continue to swirl around, but  instead of being frightened, we should see  this as an opportunity to understand our  interrelationships, largely carried on these  rivers of commerce, which support both “Big”  and “little” freight traffic.

Trade Statistics and the ITTS member States

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

The growth in exports has been well documented, but normally these are reported as simply tables, showing the growth of trade.  As such, we tend to forget that trade is a sum of many different commodities moving to many different markets.    Part of this is that when I first started working on ITTS, I was pushing the growth of exports to promote regional trade.  And well, exports from the Southeast have exploded, not only from the National Export Initiative, but also from a weak dollar and some movements in certain commodity markets.  The sum is that exports have increased as well as its relative importance to the economies of the ITTS region.

These tables and charts, combined with the statistics that are available on the ITTS website, should be considered as simply an asset to help researchers understand the importance of trade to the region’s economy.








West Virginia

Trade Profile – Imported Cut Flowers

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Often when we consider trade movements, it’s easy to focus on the “larger” movements, such as containers or bulk shipments. Sometimes we forget that there are other cargos in the system. With Valentine’s Day coming soon, we are starting to see the first of the seasonal peaks in cut flowers (the second peak occurs later this spring). Worldwide, the U.S. is the second largest import market for cut flowers, only behind the European Union.
In 2011, the United States imported $880 million in cut flowers (HSCode 0603), led by cut roses, general cut flowers, chrysanthemums and car-nations. On a year-to-date base, total flower imports are up 9.6% for 2012. Generally, flowers from Latin America arrive at the Miami Airport on cargo planes and are transloaded to refrigerated trucks for dis-tribution throughout the U.S. Miami handles roughly 82% of all cut flower imports, followed by JFK Airport and then Los Angeles International Airport. The largest cut flower supplier into the U.S. is Columbia, which exported products worth $562 million, followed by Ecuador ($147 million) and the Netherlands ($51 million). Customs and Border Patrol Agricultural Specialists (formally USDA APHIS inspectors) require that the flowers arrive pest free.

Since the 1980s, the strong growth of imports has caused domestic producers to shift away from competing directly with imported roses, etc., to specialty varieties, that either have new traits or colors. So when you are purchasing flowers this Valentine’s Day, you probably purchased a bouquet from Columbia or Ecuador that arrived through Miami before arriving in your city.

On a final note, I first started researching transportation early in my career while at LSU. (It was here that I got bite by the “transportation bug”!) The work culminated in a report, “Technological and Economic Factors in Landing Latin American Perishables,” (Department of Agricultural Economics Research Report No. 692, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, September, 1992, written by Roger A. Hinson, David H. Picha, and Bruce Lambert).


Jan 2013 News Update

Monday, January 28th, 2013

 I had the pleasure of attending the Kentuckians for Better Transportation (KBT) meeting in Lexington recently. As always, attending state-specific meetings leads me to believe that more people are understanding transportation’s importance. My pre-sentation, “Trends in Global Waterways and Implications for Kentucky,” outlined how the world is looking at waterways for freight mobility and economic growth. Although the U.S. remains the largest inland waterway user in the world, we need to consider waterways as a part of integrated supply chains.
 Like most attendees, I spent my time at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) running between presentations, committee meetings, and simply visiting during the breaks. I did participate in TRB Session 522: “Benefit Cost Analysis for Freight Projects: Moving Theory into Practice.” My presentation, focusing on Corps benefit-cost analysis and some thoughts on multimodal analysis, is posted on the ITTS website.

“The Heartland Intermodal Corridor: public private partnerships and the trans-formation of institutional settings” by Jason Monios and Bruce Lambert was published in the Journal of Transport Geography (Issue 27 (2013), pp. 36–45). The paper developed a framework to look at institutional settings and how they influence transportation through six key factors: reason for collective action, institutional setting (public sector), institutional set-ting (infrastructure), interaction between various parties, common sense of purpose, and leader firms. Research for this paper was conducted during the Heartland Cor-ridor Trip organized by ITTS in 2010.

Lambert’s Lagniappe (Jan 2013)

Monday, January 28th, 2013

New Year’s Resolutions…

After most of us finish New Year’s dinner, we begin think about what is ahead in 2013, and that often means a New Year’s resolu-tion. Generally, we pick resolutions that are fairly easy to define, such as stopping or starting some activity. Ultimately, one’s success depends on three things: Is there a clear, measurable outcome (lose weight or get to a certain weight)? What are we willing to give up to achieve that goal (will I work out or change my diet)? How will others respond in supporting these changes (do I stop the “cheesecake of the week” club meeting)?  Oftentimes, success depends upon long term visualization of how one will look, feel,  or act once the change is made.

Given the long term question of building and maintaining public sector infrastructure (roads, bridges, locks, runways, etc.) it seems like the nation is struggling with its own  transportation resolutions for 2013. Last Saturday, CNN’s “Your Money” aired a discussion regarding the gap in infrastructure funding. As with most discussions on this issue, the  outcome remained unresolved. The benefits can be demonstrated, but we already have a mature system that works. How much more do we really need to invest?

What is clear is that people are expecting to see more demonstrated value for investment in transportation infrastructure, such as how new investments will produce broad benefits. In the future, performance measures should serve as important tools for prioritizing investments, especially from federal sources, although what measures will be used remains up in the air. For example, do we look at reducing travel costs or improving safety? Do we seek to minimize deviation from free flow conditions or simply to build out the planned network with more integrated intelligent transportation service options? How do we encourage economic competitiveness for domestic loads or exports? How will we fund these projects–through a gas tax, user fees, or some other mechanism? In all things, the ability to carry out any resolution seems to focus on defining, committing, and receiving support from others.
This year, like most people, I am trying to lose weight. (Unfortunately, I did well on last year’s weight gain resolution!) I have some definite steps in mind as to how I want to be at the end of 2013. I don’t think we can say the same regarding any resolutions about the transportation system for next January.

The Mississippi River and Low Water (Dec. Newsletter)

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

Today we are talking about record lows in the Mississippi River value with its implications on restricting shipping, while in the recent past we were talking about record high water.  In both cases, this complicates navigation, as mariners must respond  to changing waterway conditions.

While the Mississippi River is generally recognized as a key commercial corridor for the United States, it is normally not understood how that system relates to the modal systems until something happens that forces people to consider its importance to the nation. In the case of low water, navigation channels become both shallower and narrower.  This means that towing companies tend to load lighter or with less total barges, leading to additional costs to both barge operators and shippers.  In response to these lower levels, portions of the Pinnacles will be removed to allow for navigation.  A second rock removal project is planned to begin in February.

Regarding trade, the Mississippi River is a large gateway for U.S. exports, as agricultural products, petroleum products and chemicals comprise the bulk of the export traffic.  (Figure 1.  shows the sources exports that leave the Lower River, and each state’s estimated share of exports that depart from the Lower Mississippi River.)  However that corridor remains very dependent upon barge traffic to bring exports downriver (and imports northwards).  See my presentation on the Lower River.)


Exports by State of Origin, 2011 through the Lower Mississippi River, 2011.Mississippi River and State exports






For the months of December and January, the financial value in economic impact is expected to exceed $7 billion.     Reducing barge traffic generally results in some cargo switching to highways, and not railroads, as the alternative mode part based on studies conducted by the Corps of Engineers and others.  This implies that when a system fails, even partially, it can lead to large modal disruptions in other parts of the network.  There are also changing shipments of grain, such as inbound grain shipments arriving in Port Manatee, Florida.

In other ways, the Mississippi River seems to be part of a general sense of uneasiness in the transportation industry.  The Mayan Calendar predicted the end of the world.  While the world has not yet ended, the low water conditions on the Mississippi/Missouri Rivers, longshoreman/labor issues, changing in global markets, and unease in the domestic transportation volumes; suggest that the future will look different from the past.  In this regard, how do we manage these systems, recognizing that operational constraints may limit our ability to respond quickly, or in a way that is consistent with the previous operational framework?

Coal Exports (Dec 2012)

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

Over the past few years, United States coal consumption has declined steady from its 2007 peak (the US still ranks as the world’s second largest producer of coal).  While part of this decline could be attributed to changing domestic energy policies, the net effect is that coal producers must look for new markets to sustain mines.    For much of the world, coal remains an important source of electrical and industrial production, as net coal demand continues to increase.

In 2011, the US exported $16 billion dollars of coal, a record, and while Year to Date shipments in 2012 have declined slightly, but remain above historic levels.  (Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimates that coal shipments will decline in 2013, but remain above historic levels.)  The US ranked as the fourth largest coal exporter in 2010, behind Australia, Indonesia, and Russia.

The top markets for U.S. coal in 2011 are presented below, but the growth in coal demand in China (which traditionally sources coal from Indonesia and Australia) continues to increase.  The EIA projects that China will build the equivalent of the US electrical capacity base within fifteen years, making the demand to secure coal reserves a priority, but this also increases competition for other major coal consumers.  (This summer, India’s Abhijeet Group and Kentucky-based Booth Energy Group and River Trading Co., signed a 25 year agreement to ship 9 million tons of coal annually from Appalachia to India.



























United Kingdom












While coal is mined throughout the United States, the top five coal producing states (and their relative share) are Wyoming (40%), West Virginia (12%), Kentucky (9.9%), Pennsylvania (5.4%) and Texas (4.2%).  While Western Coal is largely consumed within the Eastern United States, being blended with Eastern Coal to meet emission standards, most of the export coal comes from the Eastern U.S.

What does this mean for transportation?   Based on the Shipment of Origin, the top states for export shipments are West Virginia (33%), Pennsylvania (17%), Alabama (14%), Louisiana (10%), and Virginia (8%).  Of these top export regions, West Virginia led all states in net growth, with an almost doubling in the value of coal exports between 2010 and 2011.   (The shipment of origin for exports is based on where the product began its international move.  If coal was shipped to an export facility and blended, etc., it would be reclassified at the site where the storage and other activities began.)  The regional tie of Appalachian coal to export markets is also highlighted by top gateways for US coal being Norfolk, Baltimore, Mobile and the Lower Mississippi River.  (While there are plans to develop a mega bulk loading facility in the Pacific Northwest for mostly Western Steam coal, local groups are fighting the terminal’s development.  In part, shippers are also looking to expand coal exports from the lower Mississippi River.)

At the same time, most of the nation’s coal shipments move on rail, followed by barges, beyond drayage movements on truck.  (The 2007 Commodity Flow Survey indicated that railroads handled 92.5% of the coal shipped on a ton-mile ranking, while waters and waterway intermodal accounted for 5% of the nation’s ton-miles.)  For both rail and water, coal remains a large commodity, and if either mode is unable to handle coal shipments (as demonstrated by the current low water conditions), this may result in enormous costs to utilities and other users, especially if these shipments are routed to trucks.

Lambert’s Langiappe (Dec Newsletter)

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

Over the past few years, there has been a barrage of pundits predicting that transportation infrastructure needs will lead to a widespread collapse of the American economy.  In some cases, it is  discussed in regards to animal images: such as “cooking the frog”, where gradual increases in temperature result in the frog’s demise, “Chicken Little”, where the sky is falling, or that of the “elephant in the room”, a problem so big that it is ignored.

While reflecting upon what is the true way to discuss the future of transportation, I was petting my three legged dog, Mr. Sweetie.  (Yes, that’s his name, and no, he is not named after me.  My father, a veterinarian, rescued Mr. Sweetie after being injured in a car accident.  Mr. Sweetie’s front paw was beyond repair, which resulted in my father amputating Mr. Sweetie’s limb.)  Mr. Sweetie quickly adjusted to life on the farm, and while he can not run as fast as the other dogs, he gets around fairly well.  In this regard, transportation is something like Mr. Sweetie: “We will never have the full dream of unlimited mobility with little costs”, just as Mr. Sweetie remains unable to run as fast as the other dogs.  Mr. Sweetie has adjusted to his limitations, and in many ways, we adjust to our own limitations concerning mobility.

This does not mean that we can not expect more of our transportation system.    When I was younger, the future was to be like the Jetsons’, with its world of flying cars (and traffic jams).  At the same time, there were discussions on the ability of going anywhere in the U.S. as the interstates were connecting America.  Transportation changed not only the U.S. but the global economy.  But these changes also mean that more challenges lie ahead of us.

Despite these concerns of building out the nation’s infrastructure, 2012 was a positive year in the transportation industry on a legislative front.  The passage of MAP-21 shows the willingness of legislatures to talk about highway and transit needs, while assisting state/local investments.  The bill began a process of considering the need to improve freight movement on the nation’s highways and through major facilities.  Also, discussions on the Water Resources Development Act have begun.  In sum, the need for addressing transportation is slowly becoming seen as a question of improving America’s economic fortunes (although funding issues continue to stifle the debate…).  Ultimately, whatever the future of transportation becomes in twenty years, one thing is clear: there will still be mobility needs not addressed and people will adjust accordingly, just as Mr. Sweetie has in response to his own limitation.