By Julie Landry
Director, Government and Industry Affairs
How many times a day do you stop and think about how to get to your destination? Morning commute, school drop off, rushing to a meeting, work or personal travel –transportation consumes our daily lives. BUT, we don’t consider it much. Instead, we move through our daily routines, and with the exceptions of a bad traffic jam or missed flight, it is business as usual.
Infrastructure Week – #BuildForTomorrow – provides an opportunity to take a look at that picture. From the forest products industry perspective, sound infrastructure and efficient transportation are essential to our manufacturers, and the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) is focused on achieving those goals.
For the average commercial shipper, many decisions and months of pre-planning go into determining the logistics of each load. For the forest products industry, moving raw materials to our mills and finished products to our customers is becoming increasingly difficult and more expensive. We make the products that people use in their everyday lives. They are not thinking about the number of steps it takes to get the Amazon box to their door or the paper towels on the shelves of their grocery store. That is until they are all of the sudden not there; there is a delay; or it costs more.
There is a lot of talk about the changing world of transportation and the deteriorating conditions of our nation’s infrastructure. Congress is well over due to make investments in our roads and bridges and advance important policies that would bring our transportation system into the 21st century.
From a competitive viewpoint, the United States is behind. More so than ever, the average consumer expects on-demand availability of the products they need and for them to arrive at their doorstep with the click of a button. The central question: How to make that happen more efficiently and safely? Part of that answer is in taking full advantage of new technologies and a competitive marketplace.
Our industry faces a shortage of available trucks. Rising consumer demand and stagnant growth in qualified truck drivers compounded with lack of reliability from other modes has led to a capacity crisis and ever increasing costs. Canada, Mexico, the European Union and Australia utilize safer, more efficient trucks than is currently permissible on the federal Interstate system in the United States.
The current federal weight limit for trucks on the Interstate is 80,000 pounds. But the federal government does not regulate weight on other roads, and 50 states allow trucks carrying more than 80,000 pounds to drive on state and local roads—past schools, homes and playgrounds.
And because of the limit, manufacturers are often forced to send trucks out partially empty, increasing the number of trips and putting more trucks on the road. AF&PA supports allowing a truck with an additional sixth axle and set of brakes to carry 91,000 pounds. This safer truck configuration would allow our industry to reduce the number of trucks we utilize by 25 percent and brings us up to the same standard as the countries with which we compete.
Commercial shippers need all modes of transportation. AF&PA members utilize both modes equally with shipping by rail often serving as the more economical, depending on the length of haul and type of shipment, and in many cases the only option to move our product.
The rail industry must be focused on providing reliable service at a fair rate to customers. Our industry is captive at most of our facilities across the country. When it comes to choosing a rail service provider there is only one choice in the region and this lack of competition leads to high rates and poor service.
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) is charged with ensuring that shippers and rail service providers are able to work together, that shippers receive fair rates and that railroads generate fair revenues while providing good service. The forest products industry is unfortunately exempt from the STB’s purview due to a thirty-year-old decision.
AF&PA is pursuing a revocation of our exemption under the STB. If the exemption is removed, the industry would be able to work through the STB and have options for recourse over service and rates, something we currently do not have access to.
The forest products industry operates in a fiercely competitive global environment. Policies in this country should reflect the need for a healthy transportation marketplace to set the stage for boosting American manufacturing. There is room for all modes to thrive and improve, and AF&PA stands ready to move forward.