Senator James M. Jeffords
Hearing on Freight and Intermodal Facilities
September 9, 2002
Chairmen Reid and Breaux, I appreciate all the work you have done putting this hearing together. Coordinating two committees is not an easy task and I applaud your efforts.
Today’s hearing lays important groundwork for the TEA-21 reauthorization next year. The proper and efficient handling of freight is absolutely critical to the American economy – it is that simple.
Without this, consumer prices would skyrocket, factories would have temporary shutdowns, businesses could not function, and, families would even worry about food shortages in the land of plenty.
I care about freight issues – they are important to me, to Vermont, and to every county in the nation.
Chairmen Reid and Breaux have highlighted some important facts. I will repeat one: the US transportation system carried over 15 billion tons of freight; valued at over 10 trillion dollars during 1998. Trucks carry about 80 percent of that value.
Now, for the most critical point – the volume of freight that needs to be carried in the United States will more than double by 2020.
Thus, the transportation bill for the next generation of Americans – which we are currently crafting and will pass next year – must address this issue in a positive manner.
America needs to invest in vital intermodal freight infrastructure – so that American businesses have competitive choices and more opportunities.
For example, our international ports should offer multiple options such as rail and truck to move incoming freight, or to efficiently load ships with American products. Careful, strategic investments near urban areas, factories, border crossings, ports, or elsewhere, can greatly help.
Of course, I understand that regional needs vary – which is why the new law must embrace flexibility and local decision-making. For example, Vermont has a strong tradition of moving heavy freight by rail to the St. Lawrence Seaway. Freight moves through Vermont, North to the Province of Quebec and South to the Eastern Seaboard. Vermont’s granite and marble quarries, its dairy farms, and its timber industries produce relatively "heavy" products, and its hi-tech industries such as IBM produce high value, but low-weight, products.
Allowing flexibility, local decision-making, and competitive choices will provide for efficient intermodal freight movement.
Those who ship and receive freight in America are concerned with efficiency and timeliness. We need Intelligent Freight Systems, in addition to Intelligent Transportation Systems.
The buyer’s cry is: "I want it on time, and unbroken." Yet, this week’s New Yorker magazine in an article entitled, "Stuck in Traffic," explains how congestion threatens efficiency on our highways. The article wonders if the world will end, not with a bang, but with a traffic jam.
America has spent hundreds of billions of dollars building, improving, and repairing, our massive highway transportation system. I will push for a similar revitalization of our rail system. We need a modern rail equivalent to our highways.
Rail will yield strong benefits throughout our nation. First, movement of goods onto rail can hugely reduce congestion on our roads and permit truck freight to move faster and safer. Second, it will make our highways last longer as the heavy freight is moved by rail. Truck shipments exert a tremendous toll on our nation’s roadways.
Third, more targeted, strategic, and less-costly investments can help move huge volumes of freight, while offering businesses another viable option.
For example, much of the truck traffic on Route 7 in Vermont could be handled by rail through precisely targeted, strategic investments in rail corridors, instead of through expensive, time consuming road building projects. Each Senator in this room probably has similar examples for their states.
In closing, let me again emphasize my interest in working with everyone in this room on these critical freight issues. I look forward to hearing the testimony.