I don't want to sound greedy, but there are some things I really need this year. Things have been a little tough lately, and I'm hoping you and the elves can give us some relief.
First of all, maybe you could get the ball rolling on a national transportation policy. We need to get Congress cracking on a policy that devotes more attention to our eroding infrastructure than to new bicycle paths and snowmobile trails. The Interstate Highway System is not keeping pace with traffic growth; and if we believe the Federal Highway Administration, truck miles are going to double by 2020. That won't be pretty.
The problem's not just with the highways. Rail traffic has also surged, and although the railroads will spend $8 billion this year to improve their infrastructure, that's nowhere near enough to put them where they need to be. (Did you know it costs between $6 million and $10 million to build a mile of track?) They need some government help. And I guess I don't need to tell you about the air traffic control system. I know I wouldn't want to be driving a sleigh around controlled by equipment as old as ours.
We also need some help figuring out our role in the global economy. I'm sure you remember the media firestorm that erupted when Dubai Ports World bought P&O, which operated cargo terminals at several U.S. ports. Obviously, the protesters didn't realize that Dubai already operated more than 40 ports around the world. If they're intent on doing us some harm, they probably won't initiate it in Baltimore. If we're going to participate in the global economy, we have to learn to play well with others. Suppose China gets mad at us, and Wal-Mart quits selling imported products—I shudder to think about it. We need some leadership on this one.
I don't know how you feel about working in foreign countries, but those folks down in Panama could use some help. I guess you know they voted to spend $5 billion to build a third set of locks wide enough to handle the large ships. The problem is, it won't be finished until 2015. By then, we could have container ships trying to sail up the Chattahoochee River because of the port congestion. Maybe you could come up with an interim plan to help ease the congestion at Long Beach and the other West Coast ports. And while you're at it, you might come up with a scheme for the United States to help Nicaragua build a second canal. Having one of anything this important is not a good idea.
While you're in Washington, I would appreciate your dropping in on the Homeland Security group. I'm no security expert, but to my untrained eye, something's wrong when they confiscate my brand new tube of toothpaste at the airport, yet inspect only 5 percent of all containers coming into the country. To put it in perspective, that means that over 6 million are coming right on in without inspection. This is not an easy problem to solve, but I bet you can come up with something.
Thanks, by the way, for your help on the motor carrier capacity problem I wrote you about last year. Capacity seems to be easing up, and it looks as if we might be moving back toward a transportation buyers' market. Fuel costs have dropped too, which has helped a lot.
As always, thanks, and have a very Merry Christmas. And just one more question: you are exempt from the hours of service rules, aren't you?
Clifford F. Lynch