Experts are warning that the U.S.’s transportation infrastructure could become hopelessly clogged in the near future without a new national freight strategy emphasizing more intermodal connections and less highway tolling.
“Population concentration and increasing consumption of goods from Asia will continue to create pressure on the nation’s transportation system,” said Patrick Sherry, co-director of the National Center for Intermodal Transportation (NCIT) and a professor with the Intermodal Transportation Institute (ITI) at the University of Denver, in a testimony before Congress last week.
“This situation will only get worse as projections for the next 20 years suggest a 40% increase in population and a 103% increase in transportation activity,” he stressed. “Data provided by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation also predicts the numbers of containers utilized in the already overburdened area of Southern California alone to increase by 350% in the near future.”
Sherry told the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that congestion, competition, capacity, conservation and connectivity are the primary challenges facing the U.S. transportation infrastructure.
“Without a national transportation policy … to maximize interconnectedness while optimizing the cost efficiencies of the various modes of transportation, these problems will only further stress the U.S. infrastructure in the years ahead,” he explained.
“Rising fuel costs have once again gotten the nation’s attention so clearly, it is most advantageous to move cars and trucks off the roads to conserve fuel,” Sherry noted. “But to do so requires policies and incentives to connect buses and light rail to airports for the movement of people and to move freight off the trucks and on to the more fuel efficient railroads.”
Finding ways to fund transportation initiatives, however, isn’t easy – especially as highway tolls, a major revenue source, is feeling a backlash from the U.S. business community.
“We have seen wide-scale adoption of our new tolls management product in the year since its introduction, clearly showing the concern many companies have with the rapid rise of toll costs, particularly in the Northeast,” said Ed Siciliano, vp of sales and marketing for Princeton, NJ-based ALK Technologies.
“For example, a five-axle tractor-trailer going from a central New Jersey distribution center to Long Island and back already pays $140 in tolls alone,” Siciliano said. Tolls for the round trip of only 110 miles include those imposed on the New Jersey Turnpike, the George Washington Bridge, and the Whitestone Bridge or Throgs Neck Bridge between Long Island and the Bronx.
“Multiply that $140 by the number of trucks making the trip daily, many from the same carrier or private fleet, and you see the problem,” he said.
In fact, tolls may be the fastest growing form of taxation in the U.S., he added, noting that DOT research has found that toll receipts at state-run facilities more than doubled from 1994 to 2004 to nearly $7 billion. “Their cost [highway tolls] is passed on unseen to consumers in the price of almost everything they buy,” Sicilian said. “Many companies realize that if only a few of the current tolling efforts are successful, the cost of truck transportation will rise substantially.”
Among those states hoping to impose tolls on Interstates are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Virginia, Siciliano noted. At the same time, other states are looking to privatize toll roads. New Jersey lawmakers have proposed at least partly privatizing the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. In New York, Governor George E. Pataki (R) wants to lease the Tappan Zee Bridge, part of the New York Thruway, over the Hudson River.
“Tolls are not always monitored as carefully as they should be. In many instances, tolls are not figured into costs or adequately planned for; they are often absorbed by fleets,” Siciliano said. “But that strategy – or lack of one – won’t work much longer. Tolls will become a very serious item in every ground transportation budget.”
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