Posts Tagged ‘policy’

“The Giving Tree” Lambert’s Lagniappe-July 09

Monday, February 15th, 2010

The Texas Transportation Institute released the “2009 Urban Mobility Report”.  http://mobility.tamu.edu/ums/ 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.

The Broken Triangle

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

In December, I served as a panelist on a DOT listening session held in New Orleans.  I was struck by the differences regarding the perceived role of the federal, state and local governments in transportation decisions.   As in other related meetings, the discussion on personal travel dominated the session, with freight given some attention, sometimes as a method to secure public-private partnerships or for economic development.  No question, freight transportation differs from passenger travel.  Many in the freight area want to focus on point to point logistics systems, while others are attempting to improve local operations at ports, intermodal terminals, and gateways.

Today, our nation struggles to identify its transportation future.  When the US was flush with money and political will, it was easy to build the transportation system that today serves as the nation’s backbone.  Now, an ever maturing system, with ever expanding sets of wants and needs, has pulled that system into an unworkable mass. Adding to this uncertain future is the need to balance state budgets while creating and/or retaining jobs.  In some ways, the rush to settle everything in this round of reauthorization seems problematic, given the differences of opinion as to the nature of the federal role in transportation infrastructure funding.  However, for the “transportation issue” to really be settled, I think the greatest barrier lies at the State level, in what I call “the broken triangle”.

How will a State prioritize its needs to sustain or promote economic opportunities will depend upon how much weight the State gives to balancing spending in one of three areas: legacy obligations, where money is flows to previously approved projects that may or may not be prudent today given the changing world, (Congress has identified several corridors that may never get built); new strategic investment, such as finding ways to spend money that mirrors a more private sector investment strategy with expected benefits and outcomes; and finally, a wholly passenger movement strategy, in essence turning away from the previous investment in highways as a lost cause, to focus on light and high-speed rail.  Each of these three areas however must be executed through the work of three agencies, which form the real triangle: State Legislators, Departments of Transportation and Departments of Commerce.

While not ignoring the role of governors, State legislators authorize infrastructure projects, sometimes under the direction of the DOT, and sometimes under the direction of Commerce agencies.  Departments of Transportation continue to determine and execute the projects that are beneficial to the State for congestion relief, access or safety.  Commerce agencies seek to act in the best interest of the State to provide opportunities for local businesses to compete regionally and globally.  There are different timelines, project approvals, and project delivery expectations that complicate matters in short order.

With a passing nod to Abbott’s “Flatland”, we all seek to rise above the plane, to move seamlessly through the countryside, to/from our homes, in a cost and time effective manner.  The question is, how do we transform a broken triangle into an arrowhead that focuses everyone in linking transportation and the economy? The new battle for economic development centers on logistics and connectivity, what “Butch” Brown, Executive Director, Mississippi DOT, and President, of AASHTO calls the “Transeconomy”.  Global economic pressures are forcing corridors to be more important, especially given the nature of evolving supply chains.  This means a new approach to examining freight and economic development will be critical, but one that recognizes that effective, and not equity, based decision making will be needed to generate the opportunities that everyone seeks.

The Three Questions for Inland Waterways

Friday, December 25th, 2009

Wayne McCormick runs the America’s Marine Highway website .  http://www.americasmarinehighways.com/

He asked me what were the three most important questions limiting waterway use in America, and hopes to develop an ongoing series of interviews with various people in the industry.  You can read my answers on his website, as well as others, including many leaders in the Maritime Industry.

Lambert’s Lagniappe – June 2009

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

A few weeks ago I was asked to do a short presentation on Green Transportation at Southern Mississippi. (The presentation is available at http://www.ittsresearch. org/ITTS-Presentations.html). The presentation consisted of a very broad overview of logistics, economic development and the environment, which generated a lively debate.In discussing economic development, we are really talking about people development.

I agree with Thomas Friedman in “Hot Flat and Crowded” that we need to reinvest in the creation of energy here in the United States. The recent edition of Good Magazine was dedicated to transportation,
but while it discussed jet packs and electric cars, it did not discuss freight transportation. There remains a disconnect when we discuss freight transportation and the environment. On the negative side, the
debate on emissions, the detrimental effects of development/traffic (congestion) or the simple fact that we don’t live as we once did. In response, the real discussion that freight is critical to our standard of living evolves into simply discussions about more efficient engines for trucks, rail and barges.

This extends further to modal comparisons about tons moved per mile or emissions per mile (as highlighted by the Texas Transportation Institute Study for Marad. All of these discussions are important, both as we determine a long term strategy and short term steps to move towards a freight and mobility vision (as evidenced by yet another national report calling for an increased focus on transportation reform – The National Transportation Policy Project).

This weekend, I was struck by the irony of the timing of the presentation with its proximity to Fathers’ Day. When discussing the future of transportation, our children will face increased challenges on energy use and the environment. At the same time, we are discussing how to enhance America’s competitive position in world markets. Their future success will be shaped by our actions today, just as the legacy decisions of our fathers continue to shape our world. When considering how we choose to live, we must include all modes of transportation, including freight, that supports America’s long term growth.

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 – 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.