By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT
A coordinated, cooperative approach is essential to funding and implementing of sorely needed enhancements to the American transportation system.

That urgent message was reiterated many times last week as the National Industrial Transportation League, Intermodal Association of North America and Transportation Intermediaries Association met jointly Nov. 9-14 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

Following on the keynote tone set by UPS senior executive Kurt Kuehn, discussions focused on shippers, providers of all transport modes and government entities working together to resolve the nation’s freight infrastructure crisis.

‘Maybe it’s time for the shipper to step up and say, ‘We want to establish the partnerships,’’ said Robert L. Pierce Jr., corporate director of transportation and distribution for Marietta, Ga.-based Graphic Packaging Corp., which looks to spend $500 million on transportation in the coming year serving such customers as Kraft Foods, Anheuser-Busch and General Mills.

Steve Carter, director of transportation strategy for Minneapolis-based upscale discounter Target Corp., said his $60 billion-a-year-revenue firm has partnerships with 50 domestic carriers, which are key to the company’s approach, as are annual capacity reviews, network optimization and a focus on forecasting.

Douglas G. Duncan, president and chief executive officer of FedEx Freight Corp., said that the collaborative approach must extend beyond shippers and transportation providers to include government.

‘We have to get broader awareness of the issue, and, for that, it’s going to take a broad-based coalition,’ Duncan said, adding that he believes the problem with infrastructure is that it traditionally has been managed in ‘silos’ by mode.

‘It has to start working together in a national transportation system that is analogous to a power grid,’ Duncan said.

Theodore Prince, coauthor with fellow transportation industry veteran Thomas Finkbiner of a report released at an IANA press conference, offered a concurring view, calling intermodal ‘the freight system’s orphan.’

The report, entitled ‘Leveraging the Freight Network: 10 Steps to Improved Modal Connectivity’ and produced for the Foundation for Intermodal Research and Education and the National Center for Intermodal Connectivity, states: ‘Our proposed solutions focus on intermodal improvements, which we believe have the power to leverage other freight network initiatives and maximize overall value for the entire network, not just a single mode or special interest’ If the freight transportation community is united in their goals, policies will be developed, enacted and supported.’

Among recommendations in the report is formation of a national commission, similar to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission, which would determine best use of federal funds for freight, upon which Congress would vote as a whole but not be permitted to amend. The report also urges further development of short-sea shipping and suggests an intermodal facility and connector charge, similar to the air industry’s passenger facility charge, to be assessed on all freight movements transiting modes.

John B. Ficker, president of the NIT League, was among those underscoring the importance that revenue from user-based fees be spent on infrastructure.

‘We must make sure it’s going to what it’s intended to go for,’ Ficker said. ‘What is going to keep everyone from dipping in the bucket and spending the money on museums or whatever?’

Ficker said shippers and the transportation industry must collaborate in efforts to ensure that a national freight transportation policy is adopted ’ something that has languished since Undersecretary of Transportation Jeffrey N. Shane introduced a framework two years ago.

‘The concept of having a more nationally focused policy is important,’ Ficker said, adding that current policies are too localized and too modalized.

NITL’s incoming chairman, Mark Maleski, domestic carrier re