GULF COAST PORTS 2006 - Alabama’s Transportation Infrastructure short of new industry needs

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Intermodal News  International Trade  Logistics  

By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOTAlabama’s economy has changed dramatically in recent years. The state’s progressive effort to shift its economy away from dying industries in textile apparel, agricultural, and natural resources to today‚s leading industries of aerospace, life science, and automotive manufacturing has given the state a boost. But Alabama‚s transportation infrastructure has been left in the dust. According to a 2005 study published by the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) entitled “Transportation Infrastructure in Alabama: Meeting the Needs for Economic Growth,” Alabama’s infrastructure has not kept pace and is now in serious need for upgrading if it is to move the economy forward and meet transportation demands.
In a hearing of the US House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit in June 2002, background statements prior to witness testimony indicated: “No matter how functional the individual parts of the system may be, the effectiveness of the overall system depends on the interconnectivity of the different parts and modes Connections now must reach beyond a single mode, to foster an integrated and efficient transportation system.”
In April, representatives from Huntsville were in Washington, DC to make this point once again with legislatures who control federal funds to for transportation infrastructure improvements.
In the automotive sector alone, Alabama is home to more than 340 automotive plants, including three auto assembly plants (Mercedes Benz, Hyundai, and Honda) and four engine plants. One requirement of auto assemblers is for their suppliers to supply part just-in-time and just-in-sequence. Yet, each supplier cannot always afford their own warehouse. Thus some third party suppliers have come on the scene such as JIT Services LLC located at Alabama International Airport situated within the Foreign Trade Zone #83 adjacent to the Huntsville International Intermodal Center. The company offers just-in-time inventory control assistance.
Peter J. Beucher, JIT Services President and CEO, explains how every 23 minutes the company fills a truck for International Diesel, one of JITŒs many customers. “We deliver parts to them three times an hour with exactly what they need when they need it,” Buecher explains. “They have no inventory.”
This single example indicates how trucking is key to Alabama-based businesses. Yet, while the state offers 29,209 miles of highway of which 906 miles are interstate, the state is losing ground every day on the upkeep and deteriorating conditions, reports the UAH study. Capacity in key areas of the state exceed that for which the roads were constructed.
Model Catch-22
Rail is also an important component of Alabama‚s transportation infrastructure. Alabama also has approximately 3,687 miles of railroad lines that haul 150 million tons of freight annually. The highest volume commodity moved is coal. Container freight, domestic or international, does not yet account for a significant portion of the rail activity in the state. The UAH study has several explanations why. First, the seaports in Mobile and surrounding states have not yet become a force in the international container business. Second, the railway system lacks a north-south intermodal designated track. Consequently, it can take longer for a container to get from Mobile to Huntsville than it takes a container to get from Long Beach, CA to Huntsville.
The situation is a Catch-22. To designate a track from Mobile to Huntsville as intermodal, the railroads want assurance of a certain amount of freight (50 to 70 containers per day). But manufacturers want the assurance of intermodal timed delivery before they will commit to the freight volume.
Presently, only three intermodal rail terminals exist in Alabama, each served by a different Class-1 railroad. Huntsville is served by Norfolk-Southern Railway (NS); Birmingham is served by BNSF; and Mobile is served by CSX.
Huntsville’s International Intermodal Center (IIC) at the Port of Huntsville, located adjacent to H

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American Journal of Transportation