Let's use innovation to modernize America's transportation system
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Straying very little from his campaign trail promises, and just three months into his administration, President Trump has continued to pound the pavement emphasizing the need to overhaul America's crumbling bridges and roads.

His much-needed spotlight on the urgency of infrastructure repairs was only further reinforced with the recent release of the American Society of Civil Engineers infrastructure analysis, which painted a bleak picture of our nation’s transportation system with a nearly-failing D+ grade.

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With 2014 traffic delays estimated to cost $160 billion in wasted time and fuel, and drivers spending more than 6.9 billion hours in traffic, Trump's call to invest $1 trillion in our infrastructure in the years ahead is not only a good idea, but long overdue.

 

While we applaud the renewed emphasis on infrastructure investment, modernizing our transportation system encompasses more than increased federal funding. It also requires Congress to promote policies that ensure we can adopt the latest technologies and the most efficient means for transporting goods from factories to American homes and businesses.

Shipping companies are among the businesses most familiar with the necessity of this two-pronged approach. In our line of work, there is no substitute for efficiency on either side of the supply-demand equation. Consumers expect products faster than ever, and next day delivery is an important part of our business model. We are constantly investing in innovative processes and technologies to enhance our offerings and to meet the standard for a quick turnaround.

Unfortunately, regulatory reform hasn’t kept up with this quick pace, and the demand for goods isn’t slowing down. In 2015, more than 18.1 billion tons of goods worth $19.2 trillion moved through the U.S. freight transportation system, and that number is projected to grow by 40 percent in the next 30 years. If we’re going to meet the demands of the future, Congress must support policies that allow us to modernize our transportation system.

Updating our transportation policies is a first and easy step forward. America’s trucks and their drivers are the backbone of our economy, serving nearly all geographies and providing 122.5 million households and 7.5 million businesses with the products they need. Yet, often outdated regulations prevent companies from shipping these lightweight goods in the most effective and efficient manner.

For example, currently 30 states are restricted by a 1982 standard that prevents Twin 33 trailers from operating on the National Highway Network. Twin 33s, while just 10 feet longer than Twin 28s (which are allowed), can carry 18.6 percent more freight without adding any weight to the truck or increasing the miles traveled.

According to a recent study released by veteran traffic safety expert Dr. Ronald Knipling, the widespread adoption of Twin 33s would result in 3.1 billion fewer truck miles driven, which translates to 4500 fewer truck-related accidents and nearly $1 billion saved in congestion costs. What’s more, Twin 33s are found to be more stable at higher speeds, making our roads safer for American drivers.

In addition to immediate policy fixes like allowing the widespread use of Twin 33s, policymakers must, over time, facilitate a pro-innovation regulatory environment to ensure America can capitalize on technologies that get our transportation system back on track. By investing in technologies such as autonomous vehicles, truck platooning, and advanced vehicle communications platforms, Congress can help advance the innovations that will modernize transportation, and ultimately, create better infrastructure in the long term.

Though transportation policy upgrades have been neglected for far too long, renewed interest in infrastructure is a step in the right direction to get us back on track. President Trump and Congress both recognize the need for an overhaul of our infrastructure system. By combining regulatory reform and investing in technologies that will improve efficiency, we can start to reduce the costs associated with our congested and crumbling roads and bridges, and move forward to a safer and more efficient transportation network.

Phil Hunt is executive vice president of Uline Corporation, a leading distributor of shipping, industrial, and packaging materials to businesses throughout North America.


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