Lawmakers weigh impact of transportation industry challenges on supply chain

WASHINGTON — Whether by rail, road or waterway, our transportation system serves as the backbone of our supply chain.

It ensures that items can get from the manufacturers to the customers.

Lawmakers on a House committee Wednesday heard from the transportation industry about the impact its challenges have had on the supply chain.

We saw firsthand during the pandemic how disruptions to the supply chain can lead to higher prices and item shortages.

Much of the discussion focused on the more than $1 trillion dollars Congress allocated for infrastructure investments through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

“A first world economy cannot survive in developing world infrastructure,” said Chris Spear, President and Chief Executive Officer of American Trucking Associations.

Spear criticized 2021 guidance from the Federal Highway Safety Administration, which recommends that states prioritize fixing existing infrastructure, as opposed to building new construction.

“The maintenance of existing roads and highways in a state of good repair is an important tool to ensure the effective use of Federal funding while also improving transportation safety, reducing surface transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, delivering equitable transportation options and access, and accommodating new and emerging technologies by upgrading the nation’s existing infrastructure,” the guidance said.

“Not only does this conflict with Congressional intent, it does nothing to address congestion, improve safety and reduce emissions,” said Spear.

Labor unions, meanwhile, argued infrastructure was not the biggest factor that disrupted the supply chain during the pandemic.

They argued many of the problems were due to decisions by transportation employers.

“In the years leading up to the pandemic and during its onset, the freight industry furloughed 45,000 rail workers. A staggering 30 percent of its total workforce,” said Greg Regan, President of the Transportation Trades Department for AFL-CIO. “When consumer demand spiked, the railroad simply couldn’t keep up.”

Regan argued the on-going transportation worker shortages are also in large part because of those kinds of business decisions.

“The truth is, they have slashed wages and benefits and made working conditions so bad that workers who would otherwise be interested in driving are simply looking elsewhere,” said Regan.

Lawmakers also heard testimony about the need to invest more in our ports and new technology for all transportation systems.

“To ensure a resilient supply chain and be prepared for future demands, investments must be made in our nation’s seaports where cargo continues to rapidly grow and where private investments are being made near the ports in distribution centers for imported consumer goods,” said Roger Guenther, Executive Director for Port Houston.

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