Congress and the Obama administration should move determinedly to improve the U.S. marine transportation system now, rather than wait until a crisis develops, former Maritime Administration Administrator Albert J. Herberger said Wednesday.
The former Navy vice admiral told a conference sponsored by the Center for the Commercial Deployment of Transportation Technologies at California State University-Long Beach that a robust marine transportation system is needed for national security as well as commercial purposes.
U.S. transportation policy has been spotty over the years. Government contributions to research and development and infrastructure development went through long periods of drought followed by brief periods of heavy investment, often in response to a military or humanitarian crisis.
"Wouldn't it be nice to plan ahead, to put research and development in early enough so we don't have to do it in a crash program?" Herberger said.
The U.S. should view its marine transportation system as a total network that goes beyond vessels and ports to include inland transportation and connectors. "It's a whole logistics system," he said.
More research and development, and also a commitment of funding to develop the transportation system, are necessary for the health of the U.S. economy.
However, the marine transportation system must also be in efficient operating condition in the event of a war or natural disaster. "Always in the background is the national security issue," Herberger said.
Today's "irregular warfare" in Afghanistan and Iraq require a system in place that can quickly and efficiently deliver military hardware and provisions to difficult-to-reach sites, he noted.
Natural disasters in the U.S. and abroad likewise require an efficient marine transportation system. In fact, U.S. humanitarian relief after natural disasters has boosted the image of the country overseas.
Herberger said he is encouraged by the attention given to the marine transportation system by the Obama administration and Secretary of Transportation Ray La Hood. "He is addressing it as a total system," Herberger said.
Congressional support for transportation policy is also important, and Rep. James L. Oberstar, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, understands the importance of the marine transportation system, he said.
The former Marad administrator urged state and local interests, and especially members of the transportation industry, to be more involved in national transportation matters.
One of his most frustrating experiences as head of Marad from 1993 to 1997 was to approach congressional representatives about a transportation issue only to be confronted with the question, "Why haven't I heard from my constituents on this?" Herberger said.
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