Patience is a virtue, says the old aphorism, and so too is impatience sometimes. The nation's shippers and carriers are fast losing patience with the rapid clogging of the nation's transportation arteries. Their fear: delays, congestion and uncertainty will threaten the nation's prosperity unless we act soon.
Recent history suggests that solutions will be hard to come by. Truckers and railroads, for instance, may need one another, but each has its own interests and those interests are often in conflict. Federal transportation policy-makers recognize the problem, and indeed the Department of Transportation has developed a respectable outline for what a national transportation policy ought to include. Yet lawmakers, as evidenced by the highway bill adopted last year, still see transportation dollars as so much pork to bring home to their constituents.
Half a century ago, John Kennedy made headlines and enemies in his home state of Massachusetts when he supported development of the St. Lawrence Seaway. That was a threat to port and energy interests in Boston. His was an act of political courage that placed the good of the nation ahead of the good of the region.
It was about that time that development of the Interstate Highway System began. Perhaps the longest-lasting contribution of the Eisenhower administration, it altered the way people did business, where they lived, how they vacationed, and much, much more. At about that same time, the first container vessels began to cross the oceans, changing the nature of global commerce. Out of all that came what today we call intermodal transportation.
The concept of interlinked modes, each doing what it does best, may well represent the nation's best hope for addressing the impending transportation crisis. In this issue, we provide one perspective on how that might happen (see page 31). Yet meeting the needs and demands of shippers, truckers, railroads, ports, ocean carriers, barge lines and air carriers will take time, lots of money, and a willingness to look past parochial interests toward the national good. You have wonder if it could ever happen.
William Sloane Coffin, the long-time Yale chaplain who died recently, speaking on topics far more weighty than transportation infrastructure, once said in an interview that he was pessimistic but hopeful. That intended irony may be a good way to sum up the attitude toward the huge effort facing us. Without that hope, it is doubtful we'll ever find the will.