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VOL. 9 | NO. 49 | Saturday, December 3, 2016

Lawmakers Working to Boost Local Logistics, Transportation Sectors

By Michael Waddell

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Lawmakers representing the Memphis area on both the state and federal levels are taking steps to help the area’s transportation and logistics sectors in 2017 – from a second swipe at a federal grant to redevelop Lamar Avenue to the resubmission of a state bill that would incentivize companies for reducing wait times for truck drivers.

Infrastructure improvements in Memphis are needed to help logistics operations like the Intermodal Cartage Group facility on East Holmes Road.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen is working on the second attempt at the FASTLANE Grant after the U.S. Department of Transportation turned down the state’s first application in June. The $180 million would have gone toward the $300 million redevelopment of the Lamar Avenue corridor of U.S. 78, which remains constricted for trucking flow.

“We were working on that just yesterday with the Department of Transportation, trying to get our project moved up and get better consideration for our grant,” Cohen told The Daily News earlier this month.

The Lamar project, which would cost $150 million in rights-of-way acquisition and $150 million in construction, would widen 4.5 miles of Lamar from Getwell Road to the Tennessee/Mississippi state border and add interchanges at Holmes Road, Shelby Drive and Winchester Road. Once completed, it would improve safety and reduce traffic congestion on one of West Tennessee’s biggest commuter and freight corridors.

Cohen’s push right now is to get the new FASTLANE Grant request in by the mid-December deadline, and he hopes to hear back about it by early next year.

After that he expects to continue to work to push an infrastructure bill through Congress.

“We need an infrastructure bill, and we’ve been pushing for one since way back in 2008 as part of the stimulus package,” he said. “We wanted more infrastructure, and we didn’t get as much as we wanted because we were limited by what the Senate, mostly Senate Republicans, would accept.”

Some infrastructure funding came through in 2009. Since then, Cohen has continued to call for more funds in that area but has met resistance in the House of Representatives.

“Now President-elect Trump is in favor of infrastructure spending, and that’s good,” Cohen said, adding that funding will once again be an issue in getting a good infrastructure bill passed.

Meanwhile, logistics industry executives are looking toward the possible reintroduction of a bill in the Tennessee Legislature that would offer tax incentives to companies for reducing how long truck drivers wait at warehouses and distribution centers.

Brandon Musso, director of logistics at Memphis-based intermodal management company ReTrans Inc., says drivers often aren’t compensated for the time spent waiting for cargo to be unloaded.

“A rule of thumb is if their truck’s not rolling, they’re not making money,” Musso said.

The industry standard is companies get two hours free to load or unload cargo. But many times drivers are forced to wait much longer periods at a location, which can cause them to miss their next runs.

“So my idea is to incentivize the shipper and receiver to turn the freight,” Musso said. “As a whole we would just move freight quicker, so we all win.”

The bill, which was introduced during the 2016 legislative session by Republican state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville and Democratic state Rep. Karen Camper of Memphis, called for giving shippers a 2 percent tax credit on shipping expenses if they establish a turnaround policy to reduce delays.

However, the bill was pulled in March so that its economic impact could be studied. The Shelby County legislative delegation is set to vote next month on whether to be an approved pilot for the state of Tennessee in 2017.

“That way, when it goes to a vote in 2018 it will have more odds of passing,” said Musso, who has started a company that is building a mobile app to accommodate the bill.

Joel Henry, president of Memphis-based Intermodal Cartage Group, the largest container company in the Southeast, points out drivers have 11 hours of working time per day and can only be driving for 10 of those.

“So there’s a lot of productivity that is lost with drivers sitting at the warehouses, distribution centers, railroads, ports or depots,” Henry said. “Typically when they are sitting there, their tractors are on and running, especially in the South in the summertime, so there are a lot of emissions that could be reduced.”

The industry continues to be challenged with more volume than capacity, with a lack of drivers to meet the demand.

“By making things more productive, in theory there would be much better service and driver wages would increase,” said Henry.

As for monitoring drivers’ hours, a long-stalled federal mandate is set to go into effect in December that requires all trucks nationwide to have an electronic logging device to track hours of service.

The mandate, which had been slated to go into effect three years ago but was pushed back, would eliminate the practice of drivers tracking their hours in paper logbooks.

“Electronically we’re capturing that data and pushing it out to the (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration),” Henry said, “which will eliminate what the industry’s done for decades: Drivers that want to work more than the legal amount of hours and companies that want to push drivers to work more than the legal amount of hours – basically any driver can do that by having more than one logbook.”

The devices cost up to $1,200 each, and there’s a $50 monthly fee per truck for connection to a server, so some companies could be looking at a sizable expense over the next year.

But Henry said it will level the playing field for companies such as IMCG, which has had logging devices in place for seven years.

“It allows us to put a device in the truck where we can communicate directions, load information, pickup numbers and product type with the drivers without having to be on the phone,” Henry said. “And the devices also allow us to much more than that from a safety standpoint because it is hooked into the (electronic control modules) in the tractors, so we are also capturing speed, hard braking and swerving data.”

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