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Finally, A Plan

By Clifford F. Lynch

DC Velocity, July 2010

Those of you who are regular readers of this column will recall that on several occasions I have mentioned the fact that our National Transportation Policy hasn’t been revised or restated since 1940. Many industry watchers have bemoaned the fact that our steps to improve the transportation capability and infrastructure have been at best, haphazard, with no overall plan or objective in sight.

This shortcoming finally has been corrected with the DOT’s April 15 release of a draft of its strategic plan for FY 2010 – FY 2015, “Transportation for a New Generation.” It is billed as an outcome – driven plan which addresses, what DOT feels at least, are the main concerns of our transportation  infrastructure, systems and policies. The mission statement is fairly straightforward – “The national objectives of general welfare, economic growth and stability, and the security of the United States require the development of transportation policies and programs that contribute to providing fast, safe, efficient and convenient transportation at the lowest cost consistent with those and other national objectives, including the efficient use and conservation of the resources of the United States .”

To accomplish this mission, the plan provides for five strategic goals and one organizational objective, along with the expected outcomes, challenges, risks, and strategies for each. The entire plan is 72 pages long, but briefly stated, the goals are as follows:

l. Safety. Improve the safety experience for all road users, but with a special emphasis on children, seniors, and those with disabilities.

2. State of Good Repair. This goal’s expected outcome will be a higher proportion of highways, bridges, airports, railroads, and transit systems in good repair.

3. Economic Competitiveness.  This is one of the more challenging goals with end results that are supposed to be maximization of economic returns on transportation investments, a competitive air system, U.S. transportation systems advanced in certain world markets, and expanded opportunities for women-owned and minority businesses.

4. Livable Communities. This objective addresses the need for public transit, convenient and affordable transportation choices, bicycle and walking paths, and transportation for special needs individuals.

5. Environmental Sustainability. This goal is designed to reduce carbon and other harmful emissions, dependence on fossil fuels, air and noise pollution and increase the use of environmentally sustainable policies, practices, and materials.

6. Organizational Excellence. This is the DOT’s goal to develop a diverse and collaborative workforce of its own, that will ensure long-term social, security, environmental, and economic needs. The subordinate goal is to make “DOT the best place to work in the Federal government.”

At first blush these goals seem only slightly less pure than peace and motherhood, but as usual, “the devil is in the details”. Already the plan has stirred controversy, particularly with the American Trucking Associations. In a strongly worded letter to Transportation Secretary LaHood, ATA president Bill Graves questioned the DOT tactical view that truck shipments should be diverted to rail. He pointed out it is both impractical and in some cases impossible to make a meaningful impact on an industry handling 7O % of the nation’s transportation volume. Contrary to that point of view of course, is J.B. Hunt’s long term relationship with the BNSF that has proven to be both economically and environmentally sound for both carriers.

There is sure to be other controversy as well, as industry watchers begin to read the fine print. No doubt the plan will change significantly before it is finally approved. But at least, at long last, it is a start. Let’s give credit where credit is due.

 

 

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