Behind the Wheel
with Randy Mullett
Congratulations on your nomination to be the next secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Changes in any administration can be an exciting and stressful process for all involved — one filled with hopeful anticipation and plenty of nervous energy. Those industries that have the most at stake want to be sure the issues they care about not only receive the proper attention, but also the type of problem-solving attention that tracks with their vision for the future. Mayor Foxx, as you prepare to step into your new role you’ll most certainly be pulled in countless, and often opposing, directions. It takes collaboration among all transportation modes to be at maximum efficiency and to realize the full promise of our transportation system. In that vein, please accept this note as a gentle reminder that as you craft your agenda, freight transportation must be near the top of your list.
First and foremost, an issue on which there is never equivocation is safety. Nothing trumps the safety of transportation users and the network. You can rest assured that no decision the freight industry makes or policy we advocate will ever compromise that commitment.
Your role as a mayor of a large city provides a unique opportunity for a different point of view and approach to transportation issues. Of the 16 who have preceded you, only former Secretary Norman Mineta shares your background as a large city mayor. You have been — quite literally — much closer to those directly impacted by Washington’s decisions than most of your predecessors.
Tip O’Neill was famous for saying, “All politics is local.” At its base level, all transportation is local, too. From your experience, you undoubtedly know that individuals who work in the transportation sector understand how it affects both the local and state economies. Additionally, your perspective as mayor could lead the freight industry to approach things from a different angle, offering efficiencies and helping us be more focused as we contemplate solutions to current and future issues.
As the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., you also represented a constituency of nearly 800,000. Those Charlotteans also happen to be the people who end up using the goods the freight industry ships from one place to another. By multiplying that number by about 400, you come up with the number of people in America that exist on some part of the continuum of freight services. Put simply, our industry touches everyone in America in some way. Your policies regarding the freight industry are key to the strength of our nation’s economy and well-being.
Members of communities across America are ultimately our customers, and decisions in Washington trickle down and affect them in different ways. It’s for this reason that it is so important that the country as a whole is seen as an interconnected system rather than a collection of population centers. The binding tie of the interconnected system is our transportation infrastructure. America’s roads and bridges, railways, waterways, and airports not only facilitate the free flow of goods, but allow personal mobility toward more opportunities and better economic conditions.
MAP-21 is in the early stages of implementation, presenting you with many opportunities for policy discussions and subsequent decisions. The legislation is poised to have a major effect on the freight industry with the initial focus providing much encouragement. Continuing the initial progress is of vital importance as you set the tone for your administration. The change in leadership at the Department of Transportation must not impede the momentum that began under your predecessor, as well as the steady increase in attention given to freight issues by Congress.
The experience you’ve gained during your time serving as mayor in a major freight hub like Charlotte gives you the ability to view solutions differently and put your mark on policies already in motion. It is my firm belief that your background bodes well for continued momentum on issues surrounding freight like the national network, the truck size and weight study, and the newly formed National Freight Advisory Committee.
As you formulate your approach, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer some advice as well as my assistance on issues affecting the freight industry. Personal meetings with industry leaders in all modes will yield great insight into the intricacies of freight operations and the challenges they face in light of physical constraints, increasing energy costs, and tepid economic growth. They will also serve as a strong symbol of your commitment to the advancement of the freight provisions of MAP-21.
Mayor Foxx, I strongly believe that our mutual success hinges on a clear understanding of the issues that face us, open lines of communication, and perhaps most importantly, a committed visionary leader. I believe you can be that leader and look forward to working with you as we continue the progress made around the safe, efficient, and sustainable movement of freight that is so vital to the lives of every American and the national economy. Next time you are heading back to Charlotte, please let me know. We have a large service center there and I’d love to show you around.
C. Randal Mullett
Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs, Con-way Inc.
Mullett can be reached by email.