As an industry we need to assess how — or if — the separate but related pieces of the cargo transportation system work together. The industry needs to push for a change in Washington from the typical highways, railroads and ports report cards, to a biannual, critical and comprehensive assessment of whether these parts work with or against one another.
I point to my backyard as an example. Virginia is the only U.S. East Coast port that has water deep enough to handle the biggest container ships afloat. Because of this limitation, it stands to reason that not many of these vessels will come to the U.S. East Coast; it’s not profitable. If our neighboring ports had similar drafts, this coast could capture more of those vessels. But this scenario works only if there is a measure of infrastructure equality among the ports, the railroads and primary highways that serve the ports.
Competition is positive when it comes to securing the financial health of a port and its community. In the context of transportation and port infrastructure projects, I believe we need to take a national view in developing systems that work for all of the nation’s gateways. This approach would recognize the relative value of all major freight movement infrastructure projects and concentrate our efforts in supporting the anticipated growth in volumes more efficiently and ultimately at lower cost to all stakeholders.
In this economy, we must look at things as a whole and advocate for those things that will move the most cargo across all of the nation’s ports, create jobs and spur economic development.
In short, I believe in a holistic approach to supply-chain development. Is this a change I see coming in 2009? Not at the moment, but we must begin to consider the issue before the total supply chain is overburdened with unnecessary delays, congestion and negative environmental impacts.