As the manager of Idaho's only seaport and the furthest inland port on the West Coast, I have been asked to address you concerning the intermodal aspects of ISTEA. In a global market, the United States must be competitive in two areas, a well-educated work force and an efficient transportation system. As education concentrates on the three Rs, a port focuses on the four Rs of transportation, river, rail, roads, and runways. We would like to suggest changes to the existing act to improve its effectiveness in each of the four Rs for an intermodal port facility.
First the river. A series of eight dams and locks on the Columbia and Snake River system provide a 465 mile water highway from Idaho to world markets. The beauty of this waterway is that it moves vast amounts of cargo but does not require overlays or potholes to be filled. Barge shipments of grain can be moved for one-half the cost of rail or one-fifth the cost of trucking. However, ISTEA is silent or ambiguous concerning the utilization of funds for port-related projects.
Recently, a port in Washington used $400,000 in ISTEA funds to complete a much-needed barge dock expansion project. The Port of Lewiston is also in need of a similar project. However, in Idaho we cannot even apply to the Idaho Department of Transportation for ISTEA funds for port-related projects. It is simply interpreted differently.
Last year the volume of barge and rail cargo leaving the Port of Lewiston took 57,000 trucks off the National Highway System. We believe that ISTEA should provide the flexibility for states to provide funding for port intermodal projects which reduce congestion or maintenance costs to our highways.
Rural states such as Idaho have seen the abandonment of hundreds of miles of rail lines in the closure of short line railroads. In specific cases where the public would be better served by maintaining a rail line versus the increased construction or maintenance costs associated with additional highway traffic, a program providing low interest loans to private railroad companies for repair of a line would offer a better solution than abandonment of the rail line.
Similarly, the ability to provide ISTEA funds to ports for rail improvements is a gray area and is implemented differently than state transportation departments across the United States. The Port of Lewiston has seen a 2800 percent increase in container by rail service in the last five years. For a small port it is difficult, if not impossible, to upgrade our rail facilities to accommodate this demand. $200,000 in ISTEA funds would improve the port's rail to meet current demand. But, in Idaho ISTEA is not interpreted to allow for funds to be used for rail improvement projects. $200,000 would not construct one quarter mile of highway, but it would improve the port's rail to allow efficient movement of freight through the Port of Lewiston.
When considering roads for the Port of Lewiston, it all comes down to one road, U.S. Highway 95. Highway 95, or more affectionately referred to as Idaho's goat trail, is the biggest obstacle facing the port and the state for efficient movement of people and commerce. Two other members of this panel will address the importance of this highway as the only land connection between north and south Idaho. I cannot think of another state in the country which relies on a single highway, no rail, no waterway, as its only north-south connector. We implore you to explore possible avenues in ISTEA to provide funding for improvements to Highway 95.
The last area I will discuss is runways. ISTEA provides for improving connectivity of airports to the National Highway System. Arterials can be improved to enhance traffic flow to airports. However, in Idaho only one airport, Boise, qualifies. Airports must have a base traffic utilization before they qualify for this type of ISTEA funding. In principle this works in urban states, but in airports and rural areas who do not qualify under air traffic requirements, still have ground problems in just getting people and freight to their airports. I would suggest that for rural areas the standard set for air utilization be lowered or dropped altogether and give states' transportation departments the flexibility to decide how to best connect the highway system to our airports.
In summary, connectivity is paramount to the success of port facilities. The four modes of the transportation which I have discussed, the river, the rail, roads, and runways form a stool to support our Nation's transportation needs. The efficiency of our seaports, both inland and coastal, provide the gateway to U.S. exports and improvement of our balance of trade.