Rodney E. Slater & Samuel K. Skinner
The movement of freight and goods is our nation’s lifeblood. A dynamic, growing economy needs the efficiency and competitive advantages that a first-class intermodal transportation system provides. The movement of goods directly affects global and domestic commerce from raw materials to agricultural products to high-tech electronics and other manufactured items. Fundamental domestic concerns, such as employment rates, cost of materials, national defense, international trade relations, and overall standard of living, all hinge to some degree on a timely and cost-effective freight system.
It’s not too late. Congress should place a priority on freight infrastructure funding, especially through specific programs and dedicated monies that support goods movement. Our economy, our jobs and our standard of living are at stake.
Let’s look at one example program: Corridors. A new program in TEA-21, the funds from the corridors program were overwhelmingly sought. During the first several years of the program, DOT received $15 of requests for each dollar available, totaling a demonstrated need of about $2 billion annually. Only about $700 million was available for this program under TEA-21, but, if funding isn’t boosted dramatically in the new bill, infrastructure projects badly needed to keep goods moving will idle another six years.
In 1998, US freight carriers moved over 15 billion tons of goods worth more than $9 trillion. By 2020, the volume of freight moved by our transportation network will increase to 25 billion tons, worth about $30 trillion. Foreign trade more than doubled from 1981 to 2002, now accounting for one-third of our GDP, and is expected to double again by the end of the next decade. Investments in goods movement infrastructure, more than other parts of the system, have not kept pace with this growth.
The fact is, what can’t be moved can’t be used. Freight infrastructure requires your attention and support to prevent economic gridlock. As consumers, we all rely heavily upon this system in our everyday lives.
American voters are acutely attuned to the issue’s importance. Freight and congestion issues took center stage in November’s 2004 elections when Americans overwhelmingly voted in favor of transportation initiatives. In nearly 55 transportation funding measures on the ballot in 21 states, the voters approved 76 percent, allotting more than $28 billion in new transportation funding.
Transportation is embedded in the very fabric of our economy and the ripple effects from a breakdown in our goods movement system would be felt in every corner of the country.
Our success or failure in preserving and improving our nation’s intermodal transportation system through adequate freight funding in the reauthorization will be reflected in prices of goods, employment stability and economic growth.
Rodney E. Slater
Samuel K. Skinner
(Samuel K. Skinner is currently Of Counsel to Greenberg Traurig, LLP and former Chairman & CEO of USF Corporation. Rodney E. Slater is currently a partner at Patton Boggs, LLP. Both are former US Transportation Secretaries under the Bush I and Clinton administrations, respectively.)