Monday, September 26, 2005

Tim Kaine on Interstate 81

Tim Kaine made some newsworthy comments Saturday at the Virginia Environmental Assembly on how he would address traffic congestion on Interstate 81. While ducking the issue of whether he's "for" or "against" the STAR Solutions proposal for I-81, which would entail spending $13 billion or more to add four truck-only lanes the full, 325-mile length of the transportation corridor, Kaine articulated two strategies that make more sense to him:

(1) Devise a way to shift more container traffic to rail, and

(2) Focus road improvements on the 50 to 60 miles of Interstate, mainly in and around urban areas, that are most congested.

Kaine's approach would be far more affordable than the STAR boondoggle, which doesn't have much support outside the Warner administration. The devil, of course, is in the details. How could containers be shifted to rail? What public investment would need to be made? By whatever means containers are diverted to rail, the solution will cost a fraction of $13 billion.


At 9:59 AM, Blogger Jim Wamsley said...

This is all discussed in a paper on the RAILsolution web page

Here is a paragraph on cost:

Diverting 46% of all long-haul trucks from I-81 would certainly be beneficial, but we submit that this estimate is too conservative. The rail investments proposed in Reebie are modest (around $7 billion for the entire NS corridor and just $2.6-2.8 billion in Virginia.*) Intermodal service in the 2,000 mile Chicago/Los Angeles corridor currently captures “as much as 80% of all truck traffic.”* We submit that an even more modern railroad could capture at least 65% of all long-haul truck traffic in the 1100-mile Harrisburg/New Orleans corridor or the 900-mile Harrisburg/Memphis corridor. If this could be accomplished, it would represent a 46% decrease in truck traffic on I-81.

*The source is:
The Northeast-Southeast-Midwest Corridor Marketing Study, report to the Virginia Dept. of Rail & Public Transportation, by Reebie and Associates, Stamford, CT, December 15, 2003,

At 11:56 AM, Blogger Steve Haner said...

Note that Mr. Wamsley is talking about improvements all along the Pennsylvania to Louisiana corridor, well outside Virginia's control. A more limited scope of rail expansion has far more limited results in Virginia. You won't get to where the trucks off load in Winchester only to get back on the highway at Bristol.

Rail expansion can help, and needs to be part of the solution, but it really won't remove the need to widen what is after all now a 40-50 year old highway.

At 7:23 AM, Blogger Jim Wamsley said...

More information from the Railsolution web page. Thihs addresses Steve Haner’s concern about “the need to widen what is after all now a 40-50 year old highway.”

What advantages will accrue from the proposed Maximized Rail/Minimized
Road Plan?

 Less expansion of I-81: Since the Steel Interstate will handle a large portion of long-haul truck traffic, the need to expand I-81 will greatly diminish. Detailed traffic analysis is needed to determine necessary upgrades to the highway, but it is believed that adding a lane in congested areas, adding a climbing lane where necessary for trucks on hills, adding safety and enforcement measures already planned by VDOT may suffice for the long term. It appears certain that the necessary upgrades to I-81 will not exceed the addition of a single lane in each direction for the full 325 miles in VA.

 Lower cost: The cost of rail improvements proposed here, as estimated by RAIL Solution experts, is $3.6 billion. Without knowing what I-81 improvements will be necessary, it is hard to estimate their cost. But if the full addition of a 3rd lane is taken as a high limit, then Fluor’s estimates of $1.8 billion, later revised to $7 billion, may be used as an upper cost limit. Thus the total cost for rail and highway improvements in VA could be expected to fall between $5.4 and $10.6 billion.
Obviously, both rail and highway investment will be needed in other states in the corridor, but their results should be similar to what we’ve shown for Virginia: Lower cost by maximizing rail and minimizing highway expansion.

At 10:56 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I confess to knowing nothing about this, still something doesn't seem to make sense.

Figure I have a load of goods, and I have to drive a hundred miles to the rail transfer wait a day to load and assemble the train and another day for train travel, and another day to disassemble and unload the train. Now I have to have another tractor and driver pick it up and drive a hundred miles to its destination.

If my load is valued at $80,000 it's costing me $125 a day just in interest to have it sitting around. If shipping costs $3.00/mile then I can drive the truck up to 300 miles direct to its destination for less money, even if the rail shipment is free. I can drive it up to 1500 miles and still have it there sooner, and probably for the same money.

Now, you have a bunch of people all going to the same railhead to load for that train, and the same thing at the other end. So you have the freight version of rush hour at Vienna Metro, only you have to repeat that fiasco at the other end. You haven't got the trucks off the roads, just off of I-81.

I can't imagine that you can afford to load a truck on a train and ship it less than 650 miles cost effectively. If you are going less than 450 miles, even flying is not time effective.

For a 2000 mile trip, yes, you could get 80%. But 65% on a 900 mile trip strikes me as wildly optimistic. I hope I'm wrong, because driving next to a virtual train on route 81 is no fun.

If you get a 46% decrease for $7 billion that might be OK. But just as with any other transportation improvement taking some trucks off I81 will make it more attractive to other trucks (remember induced traffic?). Meanwhile the population is going up and shipping demand is going up, so maybe you only get a 20% decrease in truck traffic after 15 years.

You still wind up having to fix I-81 only it costs more then and you suffer with a less flexible, slower, and marginally less expensive shipping system in the meantime.

Look at it another way, for $7 billion you could give away 14 billion miles of truck shipping for free. It seems to me the truckers know when it pays to get on the train and when it doesn't.

Why not ask them,instead of a consultant?


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