Congestion relief

18 April 2008

SC&RA applauds the National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America's Transportation Network, released in May by the US Department of Transportation (DOT). Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has positioned the plan as a “blueprint for federal state and local officials to follow as we work together to tackle this growing problem.”

We agree with him that congestion is one of the single largest threats to our nation's economic prosperity and way of life. Whether it takes the form of trucks stalled in traffic, cargo stuck at overwhelmed seaports or airplanes circling over crowded airports, congestion costs America $200 billion annually, according to DOT estimates.

The strategic report noted ways congestion is hurting families throughout the US. Parents increasingly miss events with their children, friends and families find it hard to spend time together, and citizens steer away from civic involvement. While most SC&RA members share these hardships, the threat to their industry looms as an even greater concern.

DOT admitted that the costs to business have been insufficiently qualified, but included several telling examples such as the Atlanta pet food distributor that can only make about 12 daily deliveries per truck now, compared to 20 in 1984.

Congestion is particularly costly at the nation's borders. In 2005, congestion at the Otay Mesa and Tecate crossings along the California-Mexico borders cost the US economy $3.7 billion in output and almost 40,000 jobs, according to the San Diego Association of Governments. Meanwhile, congestion at the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit, MI and Windsor, Canada costs motor carriers between $150 million and $200 million, according to Global Insight.

The Federal Highway Administration estimated that about half of all congestion can be traced to recurring causes such as physical bottlenecks and poor signal time and the other half to nonrecurring causes such as accidents, work zones and inclement weather. SC&RA members especially suffer from a traffic and capacity imbalance, relying heavily on the Interstate Highway System that makes up a little over 1 percent of the nation's total miles of roadway but carries almost 25 percent of all traffic.

Acknowledging that the public sector has limited funds to address the problems of congestion, DOT is now calling on US investors—including financial, construction and engineering firms—to begin investing in highway, airport and transit projects. The DOT said it would work to reduce or remove barriers to private sector investment in US transportation systems.

SC&RA members stand to benefit from private-public partnerships that expand or enhance the nation's infrastructure. Members from our Transportation, Crane & Rigging, and Allied Industries Groups will all play a major role in completing major projects. After the completion of these projects, members should be able to move specialized loads and equipment more expeditiously and cost-effectively.

Despite our general support of private-public partnerships, however, we will remain watchful for developments that work against our members' best interests. For example, we will oppose any plan of a private-public partnership that would impose a disproportionate share of tolls or taxes on heavy haulers.

So far, we see no discouraging signs. Nor do we have any reason to disagree with Transportation Secretary Mineta's assessment: “We don't have to let traffic delays put our lives on hold any longer. We have the tools, the technology and the plan to make today's congestion a thing of the past.”


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