The New Jersey Home News Tribune published an article last week with the headline, “All roads lead to trucks”. When reading the article it became obvious that transportation officials on the East Coast are no brighter than those on the West Coast. “Travel on an interstate can be a real gamble”, the article began.

“All those trucks on I-287 aren’t going anywhere. They’re going everywhere. Talk to motorists about interstate — or other highway or byway driving in Central Jersey — and all roads lead to trucks. They’re too fast. They’re too close. They’re too many.

“‘I travel 287 quite frequently, and I find it to be a deadly highway. People drive very fast and the truckers try to take over the whole highway.’ wrote Brenda Jackson of Franklin …”

“‘Sometimes I’m petrified the way that these big trucks or vehicles come up behind you’, said Marion Holeman of Dunellen …”

Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association, acknowledged that while consumers want the products, they don’t want the trucks. “They won’t let truck terminals be built in industrial parks that they serve,” she said, “so instead of allowing truck terminals … the trucks must use the local roads to access their customers and drive more miles in the community. The goal should be to reduce VMT (vehicle miles traveled) and to keep the trucks as much as possible close to their customer base — the industrial park.” Major industrial sites have been built near housing or vice versa, she explained. “This is when we see the most problems. The main transportation provider for the warehousing industry is the trucking industry.”

In part, the article went on to say, the demand for trucking is also an outgrowth of the U.S. import market — particularly from the Asian markets — reflected in the growth of business at the ports of Newark and Elizabeth, where about 8,000 containers arrive daily. In 2005, container cargo volume increased 7.6 percent, almost double the annual forecast, according to the Port Authority of new York and New Jersey.

It’s no secret that the Northeast region has lost thousands of jobs in the past few years, and consumers have been forced to pay higher and higher costs for imported goods because of poorly run container ports. Since a Vessel Sharing Agreement was discontinued by carriers serving the port in Boston, many of the containers imported by New England merchants must now be offloaded at the Port of NY/NJ. To make matters worse, the folks at that giant complex refuse to acknowledge the difficulties ahead, even though they publicized a report predicting enormous growth over the next few decades. Although they admitted that the port would be faced with the task of servicing some 19,000,000 TEU annually by the year 2040, no apparent thought has been given to the amount of additional acreage that would be required to accommodate this influx, or the mode, or modes, of transportation necessary to dispense such startling volumes.

In spite of the discouraging words heard from authorities like Conrad Earhard, James Hartung, Nolan Gimpel, Neil Davidson, and even the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on massive dredging projects at the NY/NJ complex in order to accommodate the oversized megaships that are being forced upon submissive port officials.

Will these 19,000,000 TEU become a reality? Certainly not in the NY/NJ area because the amount of space required to deal with this volume simply doesn’t exist. How much space will be required to handle 19,000,000 TEU? Well, if approximately 4,000 acres are now needed to handle approximately 4,000,000 TEU annually, then approximately 19,000 acres would be needed to handle 19,000,000 TEU … or thereabouts. But where will the authorities find the additional 15,000 acres? That’s a pretty decent sized parcel. That’s almost the size of Manhattan.

On November 1st, 2004, we used Vince Lombardi’s famous expression as a lead-in. “Run to daylight!”, he would say, and that was the title of our commentary. Coach Lombardi’s strategy is the way to avoid traffic gridlock in and around container terminals. It’s a way that will bring future ease and comfort to many Americans at little or no cost. Review that article, if you will. Coach Lombardi designed running plays that avoided areas of congestion. Port authorities and logisticians should employ the same evasive tactics, because his way proved to be a winning way.

We’re comparing this situation on the East Coast with that on the West Coast because gridlock threatens both regions. About a year ago Peter Keller of NYK North America had some interesting comments to make when interviewed about the state of affairs in the U.S. supply chain. Mr. Keller has been involved with transportation for the better part of 40 years, and has witnessed the phenomenal growth that has taken place in this industry during those years. Here are some of the things he touched upon in that interview.

• “Everybody’s mesmerized by this ‘just-in-time’ thing. What people really want is predictability. We have to deliver the predictability in the supply chain. That’s as true for the hay cubes as for the fur coats.”
• With respect to the West Coast terminal work stoppages late in 2002, Mr. Keller pointed out that this event “brought home the fact that we probably had too many eggs in one basket. Long term, we need to spread our risk … we need to look for other places to accommodate growth.”
• In criticizing the low rate of productivity at LA/Long Beach, he stated that even an improved rate would contribute little to the solutions so desperately needed. “Even if you increase productivity, all you’re doing is buying time until 2009 or 2010″, he said.
• His advice to the industry was to address the approaching crisis in two ways. In noting that steps had to be taken in order to cope with the growing congestion at the LA/Long Beach complex, he stated first of all that existing resources must be utilized more efficiently, but in acknowledging the severity of the challenge ahead, he recommended the construction of new facilities and the acquisition of new equipment.

Gail Toth said that our goal should be to reduce VMT and to keep trucks as close as possible to their customer base. Mr. Keller said “we need to spread the risk … we need to look for other places to accommodate growth”. [Logical advice, to be sure, but they may as well be talking to the wall.]