Truck and Rail Carriers Coalition Determines Future of Interstate 81


HAGERSTOWN, Md. -- As people clamor for more freight, more trucks and more trains are in store for the Interstate 81 corridor from New York to Tennessee.

"Neither trucks nor trains can meet the projected services needed in 2025," said James E. Ward Jr., president of a Hagerstown, Md., trucking company. "We're in it together, or it's going to be a mess. We have to work together. It doesn't happen by one single mode. If we're going to keep America moving every single day we're going to have to work together."

President and CEO of D.M. Bowman Inc., James E. Ward Jr. delivered a speech to about 80 people who attended the I-81 Corridor Coalition's 2010 fall conference. Industry representatives, politicians, and transportation officials from six states flocked together to discuss about daily operations on the highway and define the future of the corridor.

The highway, which is 855-mile long, runs through New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee. The purpose of the group, which was formed three years ago, is to help manage common safety and congestion concerns.

"All of us here believe we're operating in the 21st century on a 20th century highway," Ward said. "This section we have in Maryland, if we don't get Pennsylvania and Virginia in the game with us, it's for naught."

Ward revealed that capacity limitation is the largest concern facing the corridor.

The two rail companies with rail-truck yards in Franklin County, Pa, examined their course of action to move freight in trailer-sized containers all over the East.

The containers are transported by train to an intermodal facility where trucks pick up the containers. Norfolk Southern pushed a $13 public benefit for every dollar invested; for every dollar spent, CSX declared a public return of $22.

Darrell Wilson, assistant vice president of government relations for Norfolk Southern and past staffer for retired U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster said, "It's hard to find a better benefit."

Intermodal facilities are suspected to decrease the number of long-haul trucks on the road. What it means for short-haul traffic is still a bit hazy.

Wilson said, Norfolk Southern settled its intermodal facility at Greencastle after four years of studying where its freight started and was delivered in the region. The company also has an intermodal facility in Harrisburg. Since there won't be any advantage for the customers, trucks won't be carrying containers from Greencastle to Harrisburg.

Ward said, shippers, and not government subsidies, will be the one to arrange how to ship their goods.

"Fuel will be driving this thought process," Ward said. "It could be something else tomorrow."

When averaged over a day, trucks make up a third or more of the traffic capacity on many parts of I-81.

Ward claimed, "Trucks are not a major cause of congestion on I-81."

According to Ward, the trucks roll out during the times there are lesser passenger vehicles on the highway. Trucks make up just 15 percent of traffic at peak hours, Ward continues.

"Trucks deliver 68 percent of total freight and 100 percent of all consumer products," ward said. "I don't see that changing."

Increasing the federal gasoline tax is a more desirable way to provide funds for transportation improvements than putting tolls on highways or leasing them. It costs less than 3 percent of income to collect a gas tax against up to 30 percent to collect highway tax.

According to Ward, driver restrictions are the biggest concern for the trucking industry. Federal rules obliges drivers to pull of the road and rest. The interstate system lacks spaces for number of trucks on the road.

Ward also added that fewer available drivers is synonymous to bigger and heavier trucks on the highway. He recommended loads up to 97,000 pounds and adding a fifth axle.

"Big trucks are not bad trucks," Ward said.

Officials broke into work groups, after the speeches, to swap business cards and discuss about communications between state departments of transportation and whether the coalition should arrive at conclusion on how best to fund highway improvements.