Back to the Future
The irony of the proposals is that for almost two centuries U.S. waterways were the primary means by which freight cargo was moved. The Interstate Highway System and other developments changed that, but with the gridlock conditions that are faced in many areas, taking a “back to the future” approach is gaining some steam, especially in government circles.
House Resolution 2701, currently moving through Congress, will integrate the marine highway into the overall intermodal transportation system, though with much still to be sorted out in terms of specifics. Title IV of that bill will establish a new program to promote short sea shipping to move cargo on the Great Lakes and along our sea coasts.
As an example of how it would work, containers arriving at the Port of New York would not be transferred directly to rail or truck lines, but instead put on barges. From there, they would be transferred to Bridgeport, Conn., through New York Harbor and Long Island Sound, where they would be put on trucks.
The result: thousands of trucks removed every day off of the I-95 highway between Bridgeport and northern New Jersey – one of the nation’s most congested.
Lost Time In Hand-Offs?
As most shippers know, hand-offs between different parties involved in freight movement or modes of transportation always introduces the risk of delay. While proposals for increased use of waterways as in the example above would undoubtedly have benefits in terms of reduced congestion, fuel consumption and need for highway spend, just how much benefit would result – and at what supply chain costs – needs to be well analyzed.
With an increasing number of companies operating very lean, just-in-time supply chains, the delays possible – or even inherent – in such an increased use of waterways could cause real problems for many shippers and importers.
“I think the big concern, and rightly so, would be in the first few years of this kind of program,” said Dan Gilmore, editor of Supply Chain Digest. “While they are working out the bugs, a lot of freight could be stuck instead of moving. And we obviously have the potential to add the Longshoremen’s union into new areas of the supply chain, which has to be of some concern.”
Some backers of the program, however, say the benefit to shippers will actually be fewer bottlenecks and more consistent transit times.
"We're losing our competitive edge because of congestion making it less dependable (for businesses) to get their products there when they need them," says U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, in discussing the potential role of the waterways.
More on this soon from SCDigest.