March 19, 2007 - From the March, 2007 issue

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters Offers D.C.'s Plan to Address Goods Movement Congestion

At last month's Faster Freight, Cleaner Air conference in Long Beach, leaders from around the country gathered to discuss ways to speed goods movement and clean the environment, especially in the San Pedro Bay. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters joined this conversation, and in the following excerpt of her keynote speech she offers the federal government's perspective on the importance of goods movement and the relationship between unclogging corridors and reducing environmental impacts.


Mary Peters

I spent this morning in Los Angeles with Mayor Villaraigosa, and we talked about L.A. traffic trends and how congestion is eating away at the freedom and mobility that is so central to the California lifestyle. We also talked about congestion's impact on regional air quality. That's a theme that I heard frequently last week when we had field hearings here in Los Angeles. As secretary of transportation, I chair the national commission that's charged with examining the condition and future needs of the nation's surface transportation system so that we can together guide the nation's next transportation reauthorization.

Because the San Pedro Bay is the fulcrum of America's trade economy, our [regional commission] hearings focused heavily on freight and logistics and the many ways the congestion inside and outside the ports taxes our businesses, our economy, and our environment. We know that the economic cost of congestion for the freight industry, and its impact on productivity, exceeds $70 billion per year. And when businesses factor in schedule changes, annoying buffer time requirements, substitute deliveries, and lost customers to that total, the price we all pay for congestion climbs even higher.

In 2003 L.A. drivers used an extra 407 million gallons of gas while spending it in 623 hours tied up in traffic. That means the average commuter in this region wastes more than two entire weeks of work and more than a full tank of gas because of gridlock every year.

And we also know that just like the cars tied up in traffic at Wilshire and Western, where the mayor and I visited this morning, the container ships offshore that are awaiting word about off-loading and the trucks that are idling inside and outside the gates of the San Pedro Bay port complex have a major impact on air quality in California. The bottom line is that congestion is simply costing the nation far too much. We have allowed the very mobility that once enabled and empowered us to be overcome by traffic tie-ups across all forms of transportation.

And that's why I think is so important to fundamentally rethink how we finance and manage transportation systems. New approaches will provide economic benefits that can relieve traffic and improve our natural environment and air quality problems. This conference highlights many significant initiatives aimed at reducing the harmful emissions that are associated with freight transportation.

In this port complex we have the nation's first green port leases, which make reducing pollution part of the contract. And the two major railroads serving the ports have developed and begun to use greener, lower-emissions switching locomotives in and around their terminals. The San Pedro Bay also features the first container terminal in the world that allows ships to cold-line while plugging into power rather than run on diesel while they're in port. That's an incredibly good idea.

We can also make important emissions gains on the land side. I have had the opportunity recently to have discussions with Target and other shippers who are eager to reduce diesel emissions in the older trucks involved in dray activity at the ports and at terminals. And the maritime administration is working with them to find a viable solution.

Along with these direct actions by the administrators of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are shipping lines, terminal operators, railroads, and shippers; we cannot afford to lose sight of the tremendous air quality gains to be realized when freight moves smoothly and efficiently through the nation's ports and across the country. That's one of the things that impresses me so much about the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan. It recognizes that marine terminal and rail development can be compatible with, and even advance, environmental goals. Indeed, faster freight means cleaner air.

An essential part of our strategy for cleaning the air in Southern California and across the country must be in relieving the bottlenecks that hamper the free movement of goods across our national network. And this isn't a challenge that we can put off. The United States' economy is now pacing every other economy in the industrialized world, and expanding trade is fueling growth in our nation. President Bush understands the global nature of our economy, and he has committed to opening new markets for American goods to build on our 12.7 percent increase in exports last year.

But growing trade volumes can mean increased pressure on already strained transportation networks. It threatens to create more logjams, longer backups, and threatens the freedom of movement in the United States as well as our fiscal, financial, and physical health. When the performance of our ports, highways, and railways breaks down, it not only becomes a choke-point for our economy, it can literally choke the communities that are surrounding them as well.

But the answer is not to throw up our hands, accept congestion and the pollution that comes with it as a fact of life or just another cost of doing business. Nor is the answer to turn our backs on progress and prosperity and stop the flow of goods that are so vital to our economic success.

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President Bush has made fighting congestion a top priority, and he is putting new resources into this endeavor. The budget for 2008 that the president submitted to Congress earlier this month targets $175 million directly for congestion relief. These funds will supplement money that we have already committed to helping local government find innovative ways to reduce gridlock as part of a comprehensive congestion-relief strategy that was introduced by Secretary Mineta nine months ago. Forging a consensus on freight solutions is an essential component of this initiative, and we are dealing with the Southern California ports that handle over 40 percent of America's water-borne freight.

And another part of our congestion relief strategy has strong implications for America's ports is what we call our "corridors of the future" competition. Earlier this month I had the privilege of announcing 14 proposals that made the first cuts because they have strong potential to reduce congestion along some of America's busiest trade and travel routes. Any number of creative ideas that will help move freight faster are on the table, including truck-highway separation, rail corridors, and urban truck bypasses as well as a variety of innovative financing approaches.

Our short list includes proposals for the I-10 corridor through Southern California to Jacksonville, Florida, and improvements on the I-5 through California, Oregon, and Washington. To make alternatives, we will accept applications for a number of these initiatives: urban partnerships. We're inviting communities to join with us to reduce congestion by embracing effective strategies designed to help stretch traffic flows throughout the day and make better use of the transportation infrastructure that we have.

California is already looking at the potential of one possible strategy: congestion pricing. On State Route 91, as well as at the ports through the PierPass program, this pricing moves people over a long period of time and helps to substantially reduce congestion. PierPass has succeeded in diverting more than 30 percent of the container traffic to off-peak ships just in the first six months of its operation. And the result has been less congestion inside the ports and reduced traffic on freeways. And with fewer idling trucks bunching at the gates, the pricing and the operational changes have everyone beginning to breathe easier in this area.

And we must continue to find ways to make near-term gains by improving the performance of the transportation network. In fact, that is one of the three key goals that I have set about for my tenure as secretary of transportation: getting our transportation system to perform better, with more efficiency, and more effectiveness so that we can keep the cost of delivery in America as low as possible. But at the same time, we need to invest in our future.

So a final piece of our congestion initiative I'd like to bring to your attention concerns opportunities for private financing. SAFETEA-LU contains a financing provision, and a growing number of private companies and financiers on Wall Street and around the country are creating infrastructure funds that are showing a great interest in advancing transportation infrastructure. These open a powerful combination of opportunities for the ports and for the networks that feed them. But they're only available to states with public-private partnership laws that remove legal barriers to investment....

California recently passed a $20 billion bond initiative that also provides resources to jump-start the State Transportation Investment Program. The bond initiative includes $2 billion dedicated for goods movement and another $1 billion for environmental improvements. These programs are excellent for the work that you're focusing on right as this time.

But leaders from Governor Schwarzenegger to Senator Alan Lowenthal recognize the need for new thinking when it comes to the way the state pays for transportation projects. Senator Lowenthal showed great insight when he said recently, "We're used to free roads–everything being free. That's a 1950s model. If we want to move forward, we're going have to head in a different direction." Senator Lowenthal gets it and understands what we're after.

In fact, I'd like to mention the third of my priorities as secretary of transportation, and that is what I call 21st century solutions. It's finding new ways to reform and confront transportation infrastructure across the nation based on models that are good for us in the future, not models that perhaps served us well in the past but are not necessarily getting us where we need to go in the future.

California was an early pioneer in public-private financing, and its approach to the Alameda Corridor inspired the expansion of the Transportation Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act that was approved again in SAFETEA-LU. I hope and believe that this state will continue that tradition by removing roadblocks that can prevent California from taking advantage of one of the most promising options for emerging funds, building, and managing transportation.

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© 2021 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.