Moving Freight in Virginia

Click on map for more legible image of freight bottlenecks in Virginia.

by James A. Bacon

If Virginia finishes funding a slate of highway, railroad and port mega-projects designed to eliminate transportation bottlenecks and shift freight from highways to rail, some of which are already completed and all of which are underway, the state could reduce truck Vehicle Miles Traveled in congested conditions by 30%, creating more than $20 billion direct and indirect savings to the economy through 2035. So says Cambridge Systematics in a report presented to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CBT) Wednesday.

The report identifies the following benefits:

  • Avoidance of potential future transportation and environmental impacts: pavement damage, safety, emissions ($4.7 billion)
  • Travel time savings due to reduced highway congestion ($6.6 billion)
  • Direct shipper cost savings from reduced highway congestion and increased use of lower-cost transportation modes ($6.4 billion in direct savings, $5.4 billion in indirect and induced savings, accruing inside and outside VA)

Unfortunately, the report does not list the cost of the improvements, much less a Return on Investment. Until the commonwealth begins ranking transportation projects by ROI — and makes transparent the method for calculating ROI — there is no way to rationally allocate public transportation funds.

I did have a chance to speak briefly to David Tyeryar, deputy secretary of transportation, who told the CTB that the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment does perform ROI calculations on proposed projects. While OIPI can rank ROI for projects within each transportation mode — roads, ports, aviation, rail, mass transit, etc. — it does not maintain a master list ranking all projects.

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5 responses to “Moving Freight in Virginia”

  1. “…can rank ROI for projects within each transportation mode — roads, ports, aviation, rail, mass transit, etc. — it does not maintain a master list ranking all projects.”

    Well, now that is pretty silly, isn’t it? Are we working on a system, or a collection of competing modes?

    I heard a similar discussion on NPR yesterday. There is now a vaccine for meningitis, but it is very expensive and the number of meningitis cases is small. But meningitis is highly feared and gets a lot of press coverage when ther is an outbreak at some college or school.

    Consequently many people have been vaccinated for meningitis. Now it turns out there is a booster, and the question is whther that is coast efficient. The booster is also expensive and the number of people it will help is very small. Therefor, this works out to some astronomical number like $200 or $400 million per life saved.

    I’d be inclined to put this on the same list as the one that calculates the ROI for lives saved by reduction of truck taffic. We might verywell find out that fixing the roads and reducing truck traffic on them is a lot cheaper way to save lives than inventing a new vacine booster.

  2. Groveton Avatar

    FYI –

    The value of a life saved in the airline industry. Somewhat dated article but you get the gist.

  3. larryg Avatar

    I wonder if anyone has wondered why we have such an increase in “rail to trails”?

    My theory is that the railroads have abandoned most of the “spurs” and have concentrated on the mainlines – leaving the spurs to the trucking industry.

    “logistics” is a fascinating subject to me. How to get product X to destination Y in the most cost effective and time sensitive mode is fascinating and I do wonder if it is beyond the expertise of VDOT and VDRT and better left to the industry who is pretty good at figuring these things out.

  4. Groveton. Great article. Thank you.

    We may never resolve that problem, but I believe we have no hope of rationally deciding Societies most important issues until we at least agree on an approach To answering the question of what a life is worth.

  5. Much of the railroads business now consists of hauling trucks, or containers. This is an extension of just in time delivery in which the trucks traveling on trains partially replace the need for warehouses.

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