Transportation agency thinking “needs to change”

U.S. federal and state transportation agencies desperately need to change “obsolete attitudes and policy structures”

U.S. federal and state transportation agencies desperately need to change “obsolete attitudes and policy structures” because they don’t address the evolution that has swept through the transportation industry during the past quarter of a century, according to Gil Carmichael, senior chairman of the board of the Intermodal Transportation Institute (ITI) at the University of Denver.

Speaking before the Mississippi Senate’s highways and transportation committee, Carmichael, a former Federal Railroad Administrator, said U.S. transportation agencies are not keeping pace with the growth in freight movements nor the increasing interconnectedness of the trucking, rail, air, and ocean shipping industries.

“This intermodal network is sharply focused on speed, safety, reliable scheduling and economic feasibility that builds on the strengths of each mode, and it works because it is customer-driven,” he said.

“But it is extremely important to note that nearly all the transportation innovation and progress that occurred during the past quarter century came about due to private sector initiatives, and primarily in the area of freight,” Carmichael said. “Meanwhile, government passenger transport policies and programs remain at least 20 years behind the time.”

This is because the government at all levels has resisted much-needed modernization in structure, operation and focus, he noted.

“Government officials still view the transportation modes in isolation and are focused almost exclusively on infrastructure that supports a single mode,” Carmichael stressed.

Carmichael cited three specific steps that state DOTs should take:

• Each state DOT should be overseen by a member appointed by that state’s governor and should have a close working relationship with programs under the governor’s jurisdiction, such as economic development, finance, tax policies, etc.
• The DOT chief executive should have two principal deputies—one to oversee policies and programs associated with freight transportation, the other to carry out an identical role in the area of passenger transportation.
• Senior DOT executives should have a working knowledge of the new principles of intermodal transportation. A majority of policy decisions and projects need to be carried out with intermodal needs given a priority – with both freight and passenger improvements addressed.

Carmichael’s criticism extends to the U.S. DOT as well. “This federal agency is still organized along modal lines and has failed to exert any positive influence on our new intermodal infrastructure,” he explained. “The same reforms that should apply to state authorities must also be implemented by the federal government, where DOT is still badly segmented and out of touch with intermodal America.”

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