March 2013 | Commentary | Checking In

America’s Hardened Arteries

Tags: Transportation Infrastructure, Legislation, Public Policy, and Regulations

Keith Biondo is the publisher of Inbound Logistics magazine.

Over there: They plan to build an island where none exists. And a modern port. And road and rail connections. In five years.

Over here: We study for more than two decades whether or not to dredge the Savannah River.

Over there: They measure port operation productivity in multiples of what we have here. "Compared to the best port internationally, a North American port would fail by a factor of more than four to one," says John Vickerman, president of Vickerman & Associates, a port consultant group. And, port modernization through investment in automation and new technology proceeds at a rapid pace.

Over here: "The United States lags behind others in the world in modernization of shipping terminals," says Jim Kruse of the Center for Ports & Waterways, Texas A&M Transportation Institute. "They have to become more efficient."

Over here: We consistently raid money set aside for transport infrastructure maintenance, redirecting resources to fund policies that buy more votes in the short term.

Over there: They take a long-term view. They are smart enough to realize that money given away now is gone forever, but money invested in transport infrastructure keeps economies growing, paying dividends for decades.

Over here: We marshal taxpayer dollars reactively—responding to short-term economic crisis, or a need to sink some political three-pointers.

Over there: Everyone must deal with domestic political realities. But some issues are so important—such as maintaining the arteries serving commerce, general economic welfare, and the common good—that they are exempted from political wrangling.

Over here: We use vast amounts of public money to fund transport projects such as bike paths for the elite few who are chasing a green dream. We also spend vast sums on underutilized light rail projects that are little more than local pork or programs to create government jobs.

Over there: They have a national transportation policy that prioritizes spending, directing resources to projects that will do the most good for the most people for the longest time. Even better, they have a global transportation policy that enhances their ability to excel in world trade.

Over here: We are making some real progress, mostly at the grass-roots level by private entities. But it is not enough. Our arteries of global trade, logistics, and commerce are hardening—while over there, they are not standing still.