Ben Bauman, President and CEO, Bolt Express
Coming at this topic from the expediting mode of the business, it is a big problem. Congestion is not a service failure option for guaranteed deliveries with most large companies on expedite freight. Over the last five years we have had to adjust transit times to accommodate the congestion of the roads.
Personally, I think that there are enough tax revenues collected; it's the spending policies and the size of government that are causing our shortage to maintain and improve our roads. From an industry standpoint, I don't think you can pick just one or two methods to pay for these types of programs. I believe that broad-based programs will be needed to fix the problems.
Jim Burg, President and CEO, James Burg Trucking
Congestion should be a serious concern for every motorist, consumer, employee and business owner in North America.
A lot of the solution requires a political resolve. Government should favor a national bottleneck reduction policy and an increase in size and weight. Increase the flexibility of hours of service so it does not penalize the industry for operating during off-peak hours.
I have lobbied my members of the House and Senate to eliminate diversionary spending from the Highway Trust Fund and increase road user fees so that we can properly maintain and expand our road and highway systems. I am in favor of a vehicle-miles-fee since it will not be affected by increased fuel economy standards.
Toll roads collect vehicle-miles-fees, but do so at a significant increase in costs: Transponders, toll plazas and administration are all duplicates of the current tax method that is collected at the pump. Tolling and congestion pricing will result in over use of diversionary routes; accidents, fuel consumption and congestion on these roads will increase dramatically.
I understand both sides to public-private partnerships. I am in favor of smaller government, and in theory using private money to fund infrastructure makes sense. My concern is that combining capitalism with monopolistic situations will result in over-charging.
I am all in favor of mass transit and believe that moving people off roads should be partially funded with road use dollars, because the net cost will be cheaper than building roads.
Doug Duncan, President and CEO (retired), FedEx Freight
Duncan has been an outspoken advocate for increased infrastructure investment, having served on the Chamber of Commerce's Let's Rebuild America committee. According to Duncan, the lack of infrastructure investment over a period of time creates bottlenecks, hampering the ability for transportation companies to operate their businesses. It also impacts the speediness of the supply chain and just in time delivery, Duncan says.
If it gets worse, U.S. businesses will have to carry more inventory, and this will lead to less competition worldwide. If it gets to the point where you can't get overnight, quick delivery, businesses will have to advance their inventory to meet their business needs, he adds.
There is technology that can route trucks around huge bottlenecks, but this adds circuitous miles and costs, Duncan says. There is no way to mitigate the effects of congestion, he says. "It's a matter of minimizing the impact as best you can."
The highway reauthorization bill provides funding over a five-year period, but most projects will take 10 years, he says. We need to take a 20-year picture about what we need, and put these pieces together. We can't make any decisions about spending and how to pay for it until we look at what we need long term.
Jim Mickey, Co-owner and President, Coastal Pacific Xpress
Congestion on the North American highway system is an anchor we all have to pull along each day, and it is an increasing burden and a significant expense that needs to be acknowledged. It is a pretty safe guess that the decline in efficiency over the past two decades is worth at least $2,000 per month per truck in lost opportunity to earn revenue.
I personally believe we on this continent have enjoyed a fool's paradise of "cheap" for a great long while. Now the piper gets his due, since we have neglected to "pay as we went along" and instead have postponed the inevitable to the point it is now overwhelming to comprehend the financial cost to rejuvenate and augment what we find ourselves with.
I am a strong advocate of "those who use, pay," and therefore lean heavily to a toll system for things of the nature of interstate freeways. For general-use intrastate systems where the toll system is much less feasible, a fuel tax scheme is totally functional in our industry.
Any public-private partnership by definition will be user pay and likely perfectly fine as long as the oversight is effective and responsive, and it is a welcome choice where the local tax choice is beleaguered or politically impossible.
I believe if we price the use of any infrastructure where it belongs, the free market will respond accordingly, and what can drift off into some other intermodal or avoidance alternative will do so quickly, and effectively reduce congestion in its own way.
Of course we as citizens will get the cost in our wallets no matter which scenario builds the solutions. Infrastructure is an investment by society for societyand there is simply no other way it will be done, gnashing of the teeth notwithstanding.
Tom Voelkel, President and Chief Operating Officer, Dupre Logistics
Highway congestion is a big part of the frustrations that our professional drivers at Dupre Logistics deal with every day. I felt that we hit the sweet spot in efficiency of usage of our Interstate system about 15 years ago. Better planning, good communications, planned routes when possible and a great deal of patience is what we rely on to deal with this problem every day.
It won't be popular, but it will take an increase in road use taxes to maintain and improve the system. Just look at inflation since the last time taxes were increased. I believe dedicated fuel taxes for 100 percent usage on the highway systems are an absolute must. In my opinion, the privatization of the highway system is not the answer. This provides a windfall injection of cash for government without a long-term solution. The problem here is the large capital investments needed. The increase of tolled roads is also a major concern and can hurt productivity. The bottom line is, whatever the solution, it will cost more.
Our infrastructure system is like a cardiac system in a human being. It needs to be clear and vibrant.
From the July 2010 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.