Transport, Nationally

Transport, Nationally

Douglas Duncan has a right to be a contented man. As president of FedEx Freight, he's presiding over an LTL business that is setting standards in its arena and boasting a gaudy 84.9 percent operating ratio.

But like a growing number of freight carriers, Duncan is looking at the state of transportation in the United States and seeing not only infrastructure that is in desperate disrepair but a system itself that is thoroughly broken and seemingly incapable of meeting the needs of commerce.

Alongside fellow truckers such as Patrick Quinn, co-chairman of U.S. Xpress and the new chairman of the American Trucking Associations, at the recent Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals annual meeting, Duncan called for repairs not only to roads but to the way the country manages its transportation networks.

"We need a national transportation policy that would address national transportation networks and not individual modes," he said in an interview at the San Diego meeting.

That Duncan and others were speaking at that large, annual gathering of logistics managers, a meeting attended by more than 3,200 people, was especially important because the problems they are talking about go beyond their own companies and even the transportation modes. The transport concerns are about the ability of the country to handle commerce and to maintain economic expansion in an increasingly global and competitive environment.

Of course, Congress supposedly addressed transportation policy this summer when it passed the $286.4 billion, six-year highway bill, but Duncan is part of a growing chorus of critics that say that earmark-laden product of pork-driven politics was exactly the wrong answer to the nation's transportation needs.

"I don't think you can call the highway bill a national transportation policy," Duncan said. "I don't think you can even call this a national highway bill. It's a redistribution of highway tax dollars among the states. DOT will tell you that we have a national transportation policy but that's just not really the case. What we have is a funding program to redistribute federal dollars."

This year, that redistribution left intermodal connectors begging and tossed only fractions of needed backing to critical projects such as the Chicago CREATE plan, a project with benefits that would echo across the country and the economy.

But in Congress today, legislators appear to see the benefits of federal transport dollars pretty much ending at boundaries of political districts, a reality that everyone with a stake in transportation business will have to address to repair the process and the roads.

"First comes the idea of a national transportation network," says Duncan. "We need to understand what needs to be done and then put forward what it is that the transportation industry needs. We need to address the funding issue but just looking at funding alone is not really the most productive way to go about it.

"The lack of investment in fact is beginning to make us creak and groan," says Duncan. "Those of us in transportation are becoming more concerned with this problem. It's up to all of us to work on this issue."