Transportation and Logistics Seminar Summary & Highlights

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Transportation and Logistics Seminar Summary & Highlights

As part of PEP’s Industrial Reverse Trade Show, PEP hosts an annual seminar free and open to the public. In 2019, PEP focused on how technology advances in technology and logistics.

Presenters at PEP’s Transportation and Logistics Seminar discussed how their investments in technology and infrastructure are helping increase workforce safety, competitiveness in the global market while also reducing emissions to reduce environmental impact to Alabama’s resources. 

How Modernization is Affecting Alabama Resources

The Alabama Transportation Institute (ATI) at The University of Alabama is focusing on Alabama’s transportation infrastructure and the impact of modern transportation on our roads and bridges. Justice Smyth, the ATI’s outreach director and a former Director of Corporate Development at the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, said The Institute serves as an independent resource that develops unbiased information for use by local, state and national leaders in developing transportation policy. The ATI Infrastructure report examines a wide range of challenges to Alabama’s road system. It is intended to allow legislators to confidently assess how demands placed on our transportation system are likely to grow over the next generation. Rising construction costs and greater fuel efficiency are impacting Alabama’s ability to pay for improvements to its road system. The report, “Addressing Alabama’s Transportation Infrastructure: Roads and Bridges,” informs state leaders about the impact of potential approaches to funding the state’s roads and bridges. The report also estimates traffic congestion and labor force growth will add an estimated 440,000 daily commuters by 2040. More than 1,200 bridges in Alabama are considered structurally deficient. Bridges are designed to last 70 years, but 52% of Alabama’s 16,000 bridges are more than 50 years old. 

As a result of this report, Gov. Ivey’s “Rebuild Alabama” bill calls for a 10-cent increase over time in the state’s fuel tax and adjusts future rates using an index that coincides with the costs of building roads. This fuel tax revenue will generate 80 percent of Alabama’s transportation funding. The plan’s 10-cent increase will be phased in over the next three years. Read the full Report: Alabama 2040 Report ATPRC-2019-001.

Modernization at our Harbor

Revenue generated by “Rebuild Alabama” would permit improvements to the ship channel providing access to the facilities at the Alabama State Docks. Judith Adams, Vice-President of Marketing at the Alabama Port Authority, and Brian Harold, Managing Director at APM Terminals, both discussed the critical improvements needed at Alabama’s port channel to ensure Alabama remains competitive against competing ports. 

The current dimensions of our ship channel are 400 feet wide at a 45-foot depth. As bulk and container ships have increased in size dramatically in the last 25 years, these large ships are moving more cargo per voyage and more freight per ton. In short, larger cargo ships are more efficiently moving more cargo in fewer trips. Deepening our ship channel to 50 feet will continue to tie our port to the global markets. A passing lane for these large ships will improve vessel transit and reduce idle air emissions both in port and at the sea buoy. 

Automation at the Port – What is the Next Step?

About 65% of the world’s shipping opportunities are through containers. By using a container, the cargo can be transported directly from the mill to the consumer more efficiently and to reduce the risk of damages. APM Terminals can leverage relationships through their network of port locations all over the world. 

APM has been preparing for the impact of the new Walmart distribution center in Mobile County. Walmart is the biggest shipper in the world by more than 50% over the second-largest shipper, Target. The Walmart distribution center opened in 2018 and will eventually bring in freight from all over the world to our port. “Dredging of the port must happen for all of this freight to come to our port,” said Brian Harold of APM Terminals. “We need infrastructure to handle this volume we expect.”

The APM container port was built in 2008 and has developed more than 40 acres during this time. APM has also increased its annual capacity to 650,000 TEUs. Since building an Intermodal Container Transfer Facility, extending the dock and making improvements to the yard, APM is now able to load one 35-ton container every 90 seconds. 

APM is planning more improvements to their infrastructure, which will allow APM to handle two ships at the dock at the same time and will enable them to add bigger cranes. Upon completion, manufacturers will be able to ship a container from Mobile to Shanghai for just $200. 

 Trucking: What is in the Pipeline?

Wright Transportation delivers both transportation and logistical services. They started in 1999 with just one truck and one driver and now are one of the fastest-growing carriers in the region. David Wright, President of Wright Transportation, said he expects to see diesel prices to remain more than $3 per gallon. Wright is focusing on technology to improve fuel efficiency, reduce their carbon footprint, and reduce operational costs. 

Wright has installed fuel efficiency features to vehicles such as aerodynamic trailer skirts and wheel covers to improve airflow around the truck and has seen 5 – 7% in fuel savings for each of these features. 

Steven Topscott, Vice President, Sales & Marketing for Heniff Transportation, discussed technology such as in-cab communication systems as the biggest game-changer in the trucking industry. All drivers are equipped with tablets to track their location, track loads, and find available parking at the nearest truck stop. The trucking company can also use the technology to check driving speed, hard braking, and lane departures. Heniff is in the pilot test phase for a new technology called Heniff Driver Connect, which allows drivers to use the app to scan a QR code on the trailer to verify they are picking up the correct load. 

Economic Development from a Railroad Perspective

CSX is a considerable landowner in the State of Alabama and is working to make it is easier for new businesses to land on CSX property by leveraging tax incentives to enhance select sites. Rashard Howard, Industrial Development with CSX Transportation, described CSX’s Select Site Program and the development of a Mega Site in South Alabama for industrial development. The 3,0009 acres is publicly owned and has 1 mile of frontage along I-65 to the north, the CSX line to the south, and has direct 4-lane highway access. The improvements will include the grading of 200 acres and a 1 million square foot building pad. The rail line will provide a direct link to the Port of Mobile. 

Striving to be Green Through Automation and Modernization

As a Green Marine Certified port, the Alabama Port Authority works to ensure they are being good stewards of our environment and are working to reduce their carbon footprint as much as possible. The vast amount of wood pallets and dunnage that ends up at the port are recyclable, but the port is challenged with finding vendors who can take these items and ensure they are recycled. They have a no-idle policy on all rolling stock which means if a truck must wait more than 10 minutes to load or unload, they must turn off their engines. The port spends much time picking up trash and debris along their banks, so they are working with community partners on a Three Mile Creek initiative to catch trash before it hits the river.

The port also using automation to meet their green goals. The terminal rail uses locomotives with ultra-low emissions power and smart ideal technology. At McDuffie Island, they are using smart dust control systems, a combination of multiple automatic and manual systems to keep coal on the island. At the Pinto Terminal, they use electric cranes and electro-permanent magnets to reduce dunnage by 50%. The Alabama Port Authority also invented an independent barge haul system. There is no other one like it in the world for crane-centered operations that reduce vessel dwell times. At the Alabama Steel Terminal, they are using real-time inventory controls and electric cranes for rail and truck loading and unloading.

Artificial intelligence technology is now available in the trucking industry. Still, Daniel Wright of Wright Transportation explained fully autonomous trucks would have to be socially accepted before they consider adding any autonomous trucks to their fleet of vehicles. He believes if we continue to have acceptance of the technology, he envisions a driver will always be in the cab of the truck for emergency situations. Wright believes a driverless truck is not something he will see in his lifetime. However, this technology could increase fuel efficiency and would help with driver shortages that are across the industry. Each stage of automated trucks requires increasingly complex features that take more control from the driver to the truck. He believes these trucks will improve roadway safety as it is proven a fully autonomous truck is safer than a human driving the truck.

Wright believes the industry will add more electric trucks to fleets if and when the price per truck starts coming down. Right now, an electric truck costs $200k to $300k. Electric trucks are zero-emission but challenged by the limited charging station infrastructure in Alabama and many other states. 

Forecasting Long-Range Transportation Needs for Mobile

The impacts of the increased productivity at our port will be putting a lot more trucks on our bridges and highways. Kevin Harrison, Director of Transportation Planning at South Alabama Regional Planning Commission (SARPC), discussed the Mobile Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) 25-year long-range transportation plan called “Envision 2045.” The Mobile MPO is scheduled to vote on the “Envision 2045” document in March 2020, and public hearings planned for early 2020. 

The plan will come from data collected in the Mobile Area Transportation Study (MATS), an area substantially larger than the City of Mobile, but smaller than Mobile County. The 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) will encompass long-range plans for highway, public transportation, and bicycle/pedestrian networks. The highway element will show where the road capacity deficiencies will be in the year 2045 and will include cost estimates and specific facility and service recommendations for our highways and public transportation. The plan will also include recommended projects for bicycle and pedestrian elements and intersection type improvements to increase travel time, decrease delay, and improve capacity. The data tells MPO which roads will be overcapacity in the year 2045, and the model will help create the 2045 Visionary Plan. The data will be updated every five years, and our road and bridge projects will be developed using this data to try to meet the 2045 capacity demand. 

SARPC posted an online survey at envision2045.org in which the public can weigh in with its opinions about traffic issues and road construction priorities. That survey will be up a few more weeks, and responses from the public will be incorporated into the planning process.

 I-10 Bayway Congestion / Bridge Project

The defeated $2.1 billion plan for the Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project was mentioned throughout the seminar. How to find funding for a new bridge project is the key. The University of Alabama just completed a study of the commercial and environmental impact of not building the bridge. Justice Smyth of the Alabama Transportation Institute said, “the cost is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.” Enhanced capacity is needed to meet the needs of Alabama citizens, but how can we solve it politically? The Institute will be submitting its final report, a public document, to ALDOT in a few weeks.

See Full Seminar Agenda and Speaker Bios.