With the completion of the Panama Canal upgrade two years away, greater cooperation is needed by all stakeholders to ensure the transportation industry can handle the increased freight flow, according to Phillip Byrd, president and chief executive officer of Bulldog Hiway Express.
Byrd testified Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on behalf of the American Trucking Associations.
When complete, the Panama Canal project will double the capacity of the waterway by increasing throughput and allowing for much bigger ships. Ports throughout the U.S. East and Gulf coasts are predicting increased freight volumes, and thus, ports all over are in various phases of completion of their upgrades to handle the new ships. Dredging of the ports and infrastructure inland improvements are being made to handle more activity.
“We are not aware of any East Coast/Gulf Coast port facility that has concluded it will not benefit from the expansion if it acts to upgrade its port infrastructure,” he said. “And while there has been some speculation about diversion of freight from West Coast ports, they too project container freight volume increases.”
These opinions, however, are a problem, Byrd said. The fact remains that though everyone knows more freight is coming, nobody knows exactly where it will land. He noted there hasn’t been much planning between carriers, domestic ports and the U.S. Transportation Department about what will happen when the Panama Canal opens.
“A great deal of the investments being contemplated or undertaken are based on, at best, speculative information regarding final container freight flows,” he told the committee.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is getting ready for the bigger ships by raising the Bayonne Bridge, a $1 billion project. The bridge-raising project will be financed by doubling truck tolls on port authority-owned bridges and tunnels, a prospect that Byrd said makes the port less desirable, mitigating the bridge increase in the first place.
Projects related to the Panama Canal's expansion should include greater stakeholder input not only to ensure the investments are warranted, he argued, but to avoid investments that could actually have a negative commercial impact.
Regulatory issues in the trucking sector could also prove to be a burden for carriers experiencing more volume due to the port project. Byrd pointed out that the pending hours of service change could cause capacity issues, and chassis imbalances at some ports have become a strain on resources.
“Given the proven, adaptive and flexible nature of the trucking industry however, we believe we will be able to handle these container freight increases wherever they actually occur in America’s port system,” he said.
Truckers who serve the U.S. ports are ready to work together with Congress to establish a regulatory framework to make sure investment happens where needed, Byrd said. - Jon Ross