Those of you who are regular readers of this column will recall that on several occasions I have mentioned that our National Transportation Policy hasn't been revised or restated since 1940. And many industry watchers have bemoaned the fact that our efforts to improve the nation's transportation capability and infrastructure have been haphazard at best, with no overall plan or objective in sight.
This has finally been corrected with the Department of Transportation's (DOT) April 15 release of a draft of its strategic plan for FY 2010–FY 2015, "Transportation for a New Generation." It is billed as an outcome-driven plan that addresses what DOT feels, at least, are the main transportation system and policy concerns. The mission statement is fairly straightforward: "The national objectives of general welfare, economic growth and stability, and the security of the United States require the development of transportation policies and programs that contribute to providing fast, safe, efficient, and convenient transportation at the lowest cost consistent with those and other national objectives, including the efficient use and conservation of the resources of the United States."
To accomplish this mission, the plan sets out five strategic goals and one organizational objective, along with the expected outcomes, challenges, risks, and strategies for each. The entire plan is 72 pages long, but briefly stated, the priorities are as follows:
At first blush, these goals seem only slightly less pure than peace and motherhood, but as usual, the devil is in the details. Already the plan has spurred controversy, particularly with the American Trucking Associations (ATA). In a strongly worded letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, ATA president Bill Graves took issue with the DOT's strategic objective of reducing congestion and pollution by diverting freight from trucks to rail where possible. He argued that such a move is impractical and in some cases, impossible and would likely have little meaningful impact on the environment—an assertion that doesn't quite square with J.B. Hunt's long-term partnership with the BNSF, which has proved to be both economically and environmentally sound for both carriers.
There is sure to be other controversy as well as industry watchers begin to read the fine print. No doubt the plan will change significantly before it is finally approved. But at least, at long last, it is a start. Let's give credit where credit is due.