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News from the National Academies

Date: Sept. 1, 1998
Contacts: Craig Hicks, Media Relations Officer
Jennifer Cooke, Media Relations Specialist
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <>


Publication Announcement

Clearer Criteria Needed to Support Government
Involvement in Port and Freight Terminal Projects

Freight transportation is critical for nearly every item and service that U.S. consumers purchase. Movement of goods transferred between truck and rail, or rail and water -- known as "intermodal" freight transportation -- plays a growing role in the nation's freight sector. Because intermodal freight competes with traditional "single-mode" freight, the intermodal option has spurred efficiency in a large segment of the freight industry overall. The growth of intermodal freight has helped to control the costs of operating highways and to reduce pollution, and has stimulated employment in some local areas.

State and local governments have become increasingly aware of the importance of freight transfer facilities such as seaports, airports, and barge, truck, and rail terminals for the efficient functioning of the transportation system and for regional economic development. But projects to build and improve access to these facilities pose special challenges. Successful projects require partnerships among governments and the private sector that can involve complex, often innovative financing arrangements such as tolls, special taxes, and bonds.

A new report from the National Research Council's Transportation Research Board recommends guidelines to help governments evaluate proposals for public investment in freight facility projects and to select financing arrangements. The report also examines government policies beyond infrastructure investment that affect freight efficiency, including regulations and operating practices for public roads, ports, and waterways.

To warrant government participation, the report says, a proposed freight infrastructure project first must make sense economically -- that is, have benefits that exceed its costs -- and also must meet one or more of the following conditions:

> Reduce the external costs of transportation, such as pollution and traffic congestion, that are in addition to those borne directly by shippers and carriers

> Yield economic development benefits beyond those to users of the facility, such as jobs created in a region of high unemployment

> Redress an imbalance caused by subsidies to some class of carrier or competing freight facilities

> Be necessary for national defense or public safety

> Fall within the established government responsibility for parts of the infrastructure, such as government-owned highways, ports, waterways, and airports

Government participation in a freight project does not necessarily mean project subsidies, the report notes. Governments may have a role as facilitators or brokers, for example, in cases where multiple jurisdictions are involved. In such cases governments may be able to cut red tape but still require that user fees charged by facilities cover project costs. If Congress and the states wish to attract more private-sector partners to public freight projects, they will need to expand the range of available financing options through increased funding for state infrastructure banks, changes in certain tax-exempt bond restrictions, and removal of state-level legal barriers to public-private joint development.

Funding for the study was provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The National Research Council is the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It provides independent advice on science and technology issues under a congressional charter.

Read the full text of Policy Options for Intermodal Freight (TRB Special Report 252)for free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web siteor at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).

        Transportation Research Board
        Studies and Information Services

        Committee for a Study of Policy Options to Address
        Intermodal Freight Transportation

        Edward K. Morlok (chair)
        UPS Foundation Professor of Transportation
        Department of Systems Engineering
        University of Pennsylvania

        Robert E. Bowles
        Director of Logistics
        PPG Industries Inc.

        Michael S. Bronzini
        Center for Transportation Analysis
        Oak Ridge National Laboratory
        Oak Ridge, Tenn.

        William J. DeWitt
        Executive-in-Residence and Instructor
        Department of Marketing, Logistics, and Transportation
        University of Tennessee

        Robert H. Frenzel
        Vice President
        United Parcel Service
        Washington, D.C.

        John L. King
        Professor of Information and Computer
        Science and Management
        University of California

        Richard C. Larson*
        Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and
        Director, Center for Advanced Educational Services
        Massachusetts Institute of Technology

        Ysela Llort
        State Transportation Planner
        Florida Department of Transportation

        Roger E. Nortillo
        Executive Vice President
        Maher Terminals Inc., and
        Maher Terminals Logistic Systems Inc.
        Jersey City, N.J.

        Elizabeth Ogard
        General Manager
        Schneider Distribution Services
        Schneider National
        Green Bay, Wis.

        John R. Platt
        Executive Director
        New York State Thruway Authority

        Theodore Prince
        Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
        "K" Line America Inc.
        Murray Hill, N.J.

        Andrea Riniker
        Executive Director
        Port of Tacoma
        Tacoma, Wash.

        David Stein
        Manager, Implementation Assessment
        Southern California Association
        of Governments
        Los Angeles

        Erik Stromberg
        Executive Director
        North Carolina State Ports Authority


        Joseph Morris
        Study Director

        (*) Member, National Academy of Engineering