Posts Tagged ‘editorial’

Lambert’s Lagniappe – July 2009

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

The Texas Transportation Institute released the “2009 Urban Mobility Report”. The report always receives wide distribution, and this year, the economic recession caused a drop in vehicle miles traveled. As the authors noted, traffic mirrors the economy, and although volumes declined last year, they are expected to return once a recovery begins. The authors cautioned that the report remains the same as it has in previous years: we are still spending a lot of time in traffic.

In thinking about this, I was struck with the parallel of the highway system to Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”. The story highlights the relationship of a boy and a tree.

When the boy was young, he enjoyed access to the tree. He swung on the branches, ate of the apples and wore a garland of leaves. The tree was happy as the boy had unlimited access to all the tree could offer. This unlimited access to the highway is similar to the myth of the open road, where we find relatively empty roads one can drive without constraint. This was the futuristic model with efficient traffic flows. (The myth is still echoed in auto advertisements.) As the story progresses, the boy grows up and does not play with the tree. Instead, the boy wants money and asks the tree for help. The tree tells the boy to sell the apples. Like the Federal Aid program, there was enough available to finance other valuable programs while not compromising the tree. The interstate provided connectivity, which generated economic growth and opportunities for the nation.

Later, the boy comes back and wants to build a house, so he removes the branches. As related to highways, the branches mirror the suburbanization of the United States with the resulting lost of the urban city. But this transformation was not without cost as sprawl and congestion began to cripple national mobility.

Next, the boy comes back and removes the trunk to build a boat, as the boy is sad, and wants to go away from his problems. Here, the congestion and transit issues are leading us to fundamentally consider a new transportation system. In some way, we no longer viewed the construction of the highway transportation system as relevant for national discussions as “the work of constructing the interstate system” was completed. At the time, ISTEA was viewed as the beginning of a new era in transportation.

Finally, the boy returns as an old man. The tree, now but a stump, cannot provide the boy with anything but a place to sit. The old man, without any energy or needs, is content to simply sit on the stump, which is where the TTI study comments on our present situation.

There is a limit to how much any analogy can be made but for both TTI and “The Giving Tree” the story ends the same – everyone is sitting.  I need to read more stories with happy endings.

Lambert’s Lagniappe – May 09

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

A few weeks ago, I attended the International Maritime Statistics Forum (IMSF) meeting, which was held in New Orleans.  The meeting focused mostly on international maritime statistics, including vessel and fleet capacity and new buildings, but also maritime and port information. (The presentations will be posted on the IMSF http://www.imsf.info/.) While I spoke broadly on the need for balanced performance measurements to assist decision makers, there seemed some agreement about the inability of decision makers to readily accept the value of data used to make infrastructure decisions.

With the current discussions on the future of freight transportation in America, there should be some dialogue about the information necessary to guide investment decisions. In this regard, the current data
programs are woefully underfunded or lacking the necessary geographic or commodity detail as evidenced by several TRB publications over the past few years. While the Freight Analysis Framework remains the nation’s premier multimodal database, it remains inadequate for analyzing all traffic patterns. There are gaps in the research, such as local land use and traffic generation estimates, shipper and behavioral models, and agreements on ways to calculate the related externalities of freight movements.

In this context, we will probably never have all the data necessary to fully understand the relationship between freight movements, the environment, economic development and international trade.
The ultimate goal of data is its transformation into intelligence for decision makers.  Any discussion regarding improving freight shipments should not discount the data and analytical programs necessary to support the intelligent discussion on freight programs. But this is not only a U.S. problem. Some of the IMSF participants echoed these same concerns about the future of transportation in Europe, where conflicting policy goals are not matched up with existing data and analytical models, leading to mismatched expectations. There is much to learn, but we already have much to share regarding data and analytical models, especially if these can be properly valued for their contribution to the discussion on freight mobility improvements.

Lambert’s Lagniappe – April 09

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Over the past few weeks, the question of the economic recovery and small business has been in the news. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce, firms engaged in exports tend to pay higher salaries and employ slightly more employees than non-exporting firms in similar industries. During 2007, The U.S. Commerce Department estimated that 266,547 U.S. firms were engaged in exports (excluding service only exporters). Of these firms, 106,559 were from the 13 ITTS Alliance States, accounting for 40% of the total number of  exporting firms.  Florida led all Alliance members in total exporters followed by Georgia.

When compared to total value, firms in the Alliance region only accounted for 21% of the U.S. total export activity. Florida again led the region in total value, followed by Louisiana and North Carolina. In 2006, Commerce estimated that there were 239,287 Small and Medium Sized business establishments (firms with less than 500 workers) which actively exported. In the Alliance Region, there were an estimated 60,965 SME firms engaged in export markets.  Having more firms engaged in international trade will be important in the economic recovery, although export volumes have declined sharply over the past few months. There is some hope, that these firms will remain committed to international trade once the economy recovers.

Lambert’s Lagniappe – March 09

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Highway infrastructure received a spat of publicity over the past few weeks. Parade Magazine ran a discussion on the worst roads in America. This followed the release of a new study by the American Trucking Research on the Nation’s top freight bottlenecks. The National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission called for more spending on highway infrastructure, including the use of additional funding approaches to alleviate future traffic needs. Finally, the stimulus bill was the topic du jour at the AASHTO Washington Briefing.

During this dialogue, it is clear that the future of infrastructure is a large priority but there exists no clear vision regarding how to “fix it”. Improving freight transportation must move beyond the traditional highway approach to a broader strategic net work. Already, freight corridors are recognized as critical components of the nation’s economic health. The Marine Highway program, as well as the projects of national significance, implies that “freight projects” must move toward being considered in a strategic investment framework. Some examples exist with this new approach, such as the I-95 Coalition and I-70 truck lanes project, the Heartland corridor and the James River container on barge service. Each of these projects uses different approaches to improve regional freight capacity (technology, capacity expansion, rail and maritime approaches) to optimize corridor activity. In the future, system optimization will require all modes to be considered when seeking to both maintain and improve freight movements.
There are risks associated with a more systems approach, no least of which involves determining and funding new programs during these troubled times. However, multimodal corridors and regional approaches will become critical for developing a 21st century transportation network. At the Freight Partnership meeting in Philadelphia, this message was echoed by all presenters that both the public and private sector want to see a viable freight system going forward, but there remain many institutional and communication challenges that must be addressed for this vision to be implemented.

Lambert’s Lagniappe-February 09

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

During this recent financial crisis, there are concerns over the future of the economy and the need for infrastructure investments. The current stimulus package provides needed moneys for infrastructure, but clearly not enough to meet the long term needs of the nation, and in particular the Southeast.

The Southeastern U.S. remains a dynamic region of economic activity. In the book, “The Southern Advantage”, Joe Hollingsworth calls the region (including the area ranging from Texas to Kansas across to Maryland and down to Florida) the fourth largest economy in the world. The recent interim projections by the U.S. Census forecast the population in the South will increase by 42 percent from 2000 to 2030, which will generate additional freight traffic. The Panama Canal expansion should generate larger volumes moving through the region’s ports, and already the ports are making the appropriate investment in terminals and landside access. The rail network is strengthening, as highlighted the improvements along the Meridian Speedway, the Heartland Intermodal Corridor, and CSX’s National Gateway program. Corridor and regional groups are working to integrate freight into Statewide and economic development goals. There are exciting regional developments, such as occurring in Memphis and Savannah, where logistics centers are being created that will provide additional options to the region.

In Louisiana, Lagniappe is a term used to describe that something extra. Hopefully, this newsletter reflects what I believe is critical: simply promoting an awareness of freight and its importance in the region.  Please give me your thoughts on making this newsletter relevant by sharing any articles, conferences, etc., that you believe would improve the region’s understanding regarding the linkages between transportation and economic development.