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Ports-to-Plains Alliance


Next generation of infrastructure requires winning the talent war


October 17, 2016

This article is the sixth in a seven-part series, “Keeping Rural America Competitive,” that Agri-Pulse is publishing to give readers some perspective on the history and status of America's infrastructure and improvements needed to help farmers and ranchers remain competitive, prosperous and enjoying a strong quality of life.

“People are critical to our future - manage this resource wisely!”  

That's the handwritten advice from Merdith Temple, a former acting commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in a memo outlining its Human Capital Strategic Plan for 2012-2017.

In order to continue to provide the best service to the nation, Temple wrote that the agency - charged with building and maintaining hundreds of dams, navigation channels and harbors - must “prevent talent loss; shape the workforce of the future, and win the war for talent.”

The report went on to outline a hiring “battleground” that's become far more challenging for employers in both the public and private sectors since the time this plan was released in 2012.

Consider some of these factors. Read on…


Colorado Corridor Signage for Ports-to-Plains and Heartland Expressway

The Ports-to-Plains Alliance is pleased to announce that the Colorado Department of Transportation is installing signage to identify the Ports-to-Plains and Heartland Expressway through eastern Colorado.  These corridors have been designated by Congress as High Priority Corridors on the National Highway System. 

In eastern Colorado, the designated Ports-to-Plains corridor is U.S. 287 between Limon and the Colorado/Oklahoma state line.  The Heartland Expressway is designated on Colorado Highway 71 between Limon and the Colorado/Nebraska state line.  Previous to Colorado beginning this installation the corridor is also signed in North Dakota and New Mexico.

The Ports-to-Plains Alliance purchased the signs that are being installed in Colorado.  Signage becomes more significant as trip planning programs such as Google Maps and Apple Maps use existing signage to identify routes on trip planning software used by millions of travelers and businesses. 

“The identification of the route on trip planning software provides an alternative for cars and trucks to traveling the congested portions of Interstate 25,” said Cathy Shull, Executive Director of Progressive 15, a member of the Ports-to-Plains Alliance Board of Directors. 

Gary Beedy of Genoa, also serves on the Ports-to-Plains Alliance Board of Directors commented, “We look forward to completing the installation of signage across all of eastern Colorado.  Rural communities will benefit from the signage identification of this corridor that is also identified by the Colorado State Freight Plan as a Colorado Freight Corridor.”

Barry Gore of Adams County Economic Development, Cathy Shull of Pro 15, Joe Kiely of Ports-to-Plains Alliance and Tyler Purvis of the City of Brush


Keeping up with the international competitors: How U.S. infrastructure stacks up


October 10, 2016

This article is the fifth in a seven-part series, “Keeping Rural America Competitive,” that Agri-Pulse is publishing to give readers some perspective on the history and status of America's infrastructure and improvements needed to help farmers and ranchers remain competitive, prosperous and enjoying a strong quality of life.

What is needed to ensure U.S. infrastructure remains robust and helps keep the country competitive in world markets?

The transportation systems in the United States, the world's largest economy, includes such titans that it's easy to be complacent. Consider, for example, that U.S. railroads move 1.9 billion tons of cargo a year, or about a fourth of the world's rail freight.

But while the trucking industry forecasts an encouraging 29 percent increase in truck freight tonnage by 2026, Texas A&M's Urban Mobility Scorecard declares that U.S. car and truck traffic, abetted by cheap fuel, is rebounding past pre-recession levels, and congestion cost drivers 7 billion extra hours in 2015, or about $160 billion in fuel alone. And that's not just a big city problem: For cities of less than 500,000 people, congestion is four times worse than it was in 1982.

Note, too, that the U.S. is far back in the pack of countries developing high-speed passenger trains, with nothing to compare with those running smoothly and safely at 150 to 200 miles per hour in China, Europe, Japan and elsewhere. South Korea recently started service on the first links of its $60 billion campaign to connect its major cities and Seoul's nearby cities in a high-speed passenger train network by 2025, cutting the travel time on the major cross-country routes to as little as a fourth of current commutes.

Other parts of American infrastructure face big hurdles as well to remain competitive. In the West, water supplies and their pumping, transporting, and storage facilities will need a lot of innovation and investment in the years ahead to retain a competitive farming sector while satisfying urban water needs, says Michael Tiboris, water issues analyst for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The length of the extended drought in the Golden State can't be known, but the Southwest appears destined for drier, more volatile weather long term, with less rainfall and less snow in the Sierra Nevada, he says.

 “Almost all the irrigation water in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah goes to field crops and forage to provide feed for animals . . . and over 50 percent of crops in California are for feed and forage” for beef and dairy cattle and other animals. So both the region's big cities and its animal agriculture operations will face increased challenges for water infrastructure, Tiboris says. Fewer grazing acres and animals are most likely even as farmers shift more of their needs to shrinking supplies of groundwater. Read on…


No simple solutions: Paying for infrastructure to move the nation's cargo


October 3, 2016

This article is the fourth in a seven-part series that Agri-Pulse is publishing to give readers perspective on the history and status of the many parts of America's infrastructure and improvements needed to help farmers and ranchers remain competitive and prosperous.

The next time you bite into a piece of fruit, grill a steak, or spoon into a carton of yogurt, consider how the item got from the farm to your home - and who paid for the trip. Let's take a broad look at how the country finances the highways, runways, railroads, ports and river navigation structures, and who pays for the trucks, rail cars, ships and barges that move the nation's cargo. The answer is that we all pay, but in much more varied ways even than the country's assorted transport modes themselves.

Just how large is transportation infrastructure anyway? By way of total asset value, investments in all of those transport modes are about a fourth of all U.S. infrastructure investments as estimated in an analysis by the GailFosler Group, based on Congressional Budget Office data. The other three-fourths are for the whole gamut of schools, colleges, water and sewer systems, communications and electric power systems, and other utilities.

Also, national investment can be tallied as either government or private. For the benchmark year of 2004, GailFosler segregated infrastructure investment to about 15 percent by the federal government and the rest split at about 42 percent by private interests and a like share by state and local governments combined.

Where transportation infrastructure is concerned, the long-term national trend, whether provided by private industry or public agencies, has been toward recovering investment costs from those who are served - charging them freight fees and sundry special taxes and assessments on the cargos and/or the trucks, ships and barges used to move them. Also, often imposing special taxes and fees on the fuel that the carriers burn.

That trend has entered the big data era, too, when highly sophisticated ways to collect reimbursement for infrastructure spending is on the table: for example, metering miles traveled by cars and trucks and taxing them per mile - something that Oregon is already offering some drivers as an alternative to paying fuel taxes. Yet, some rural advocates complain that a “vehicle miles traveled” or VMT fee could unfairly disadvantage those in rural areas who often have to drive long distances to work. Read on…


Connectivity: Key to farmers and the future growth of rural communities


September 26, 2016

This article is the third in a seven-part series that Agri-Pulse will publish to give readers perspective on the history and status of the many parts of America's infrastructure and improvements needed to help farmers and ranchers remain competitive and prosperous.

When North Dakotan Gregg Halverson started farming in the late 1960s, he used to think more simplistically about connectivity and technology.

“It was more about putting the right tractor in front of the right implement at the right time to get the job done,” Halverson, the CEO of Black Gold Farms, recalls.

But as his family-owned potato operation has expanded, a need developed for high speed broadband to keep employees communicating from his Grand Forks office to farming operations in 12 states. Out in the field, his team needs to be connected to global positioning systems and other wireless systems to run their auto-steer tractors and transfer important data from each field.

“The amount of the data that we have to use in farming has expanded exponentially,” Halverson says, “And at some farms, we really struggle to make it work.”

“If my dad knew that we had a four-person IT (information technology) team working with a variety of different tools just to keep us connected, he'd probably be spinning in his grave,” Halverson says.

His experience mirrors some of the findings in the Federal Communications Commission 2016 Broadband Progress Report, which found that “while the nation continues to make progress in both fixed and wireless broadband deployment, many Americans still lack access to advanced, high-quality voice data, graphics and video offerings, especially in rural areas and on Tribal lands.”

Key findings in the report include: Read on…

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Infrastructure dollars the big challenge in keeping US exports moving


September 19, 2016

This article is the second in a seven-part series that Agri-Pulse will publish to give readers perspective on the history and status of the many parts of America's infrastructure and improvements needed to help farmers and ranchers remain competitive and prosperous

Kip Tom, who produces a big acreage of soybeans, corn and seed corn in northeast Indiana, needs to get his corn to ethanol plants and soybeans to crushing facilities across a good portion of his state. The ethanol, distillers' grains and oil from his crops go by truck, rail tanker or barge on the Ohio River along the southern Indiana border.

In terms of infrastructure, he believes he is in a great location: “One of our advantages is our access here to about 65 percent of the nation by truck within 24 hours,” he says.

But Tom says he has watched transportation dollars for his state and counties shrink for years while the demands on the highways continues to increase with ever larger farm production.

“We see our country roads falling apart.” For him, “It's becoming more and more difficult. When we site a new grain plant, we make sure we put it on a good road where we will be allowed to ship year round . . .”

 But even then, his commodities eventually move down the Ohio River and through locks and dams that are also long overdue for repair. Earlier this month, Locks and Dam 52 - part of the 1920 Ohio River Dam system - was shut down for repair, halting nearby barge traffic both upstream and downstream for several days.

Tom is one of thousands of farmers who move a whale of a lot of stuff across, around, into and out of the country. Imports like fuel and fertilizer and exports like grain, ethanol and meat products move by truck, barge, ship, rail, aircraft, pipeline and, surely, a few things by old-fashioned wagons. Read on…


US infrastructure and rural prosperity: Are we falling behind?

The Ports-to-Plains Alliance is please to share the series "Keeping Rural America Competitive" by Agri-Pulse.  We will publish the first four in the series in the next few days and then will complete the series as it is published by Agri-Pulse on a weekly basis.  This is important reading for our members and those interested in Rural America.


September 12, 2016

This article is the first in a seven-part series, “Keeping Rural America Competitive,” that Agri-Pulse is publishing to give readers some perspective on the history and status of America's infrastructure and improvements needed to help farmers and ranchers remain competitive, prosperous and enjoying a strong quality of life.

One of the reasons American agriculture is so competitive is our infrastructure,” says Andrew Walmsley, an American Farm Bureau Federation expert who advocates for strong infrastructure to serve the country's farmers. He points to ¨the advantages we've had with our waterways, what has historically been a very strong interstate (highway) system, and strong rail network. They´ve all kind of built a foundation for U.S. agriculture to grow.¨ But in more recent years, he says, ¨There has definitely been some hand-wringing over the health of that infrastructure.¨

Walmsley sees his foremost role as protecting agriculture from laws and regulations that can break links between infrastructure advances and the farm economy: countering environmental opposition to lock replacements on the Mississippi River system, for instance, or new river port terminals in the Pacific Northwest. “It´s important for us to ensure there is an environment for innovation to take place to address (infrastructure) needs,” he says.

Much of the underlying concern about the need for better infrastructure stems from the projection that food production in the U.S. and abroad will need to dramatically increase, with estimates of world population exceeding 9 billion by 2050. U.S. farmers and ranchers are poised to dramatically increase productivity and help “feed the nine” - if they have a strong distribution network that can both deliver inputs to them and move their crops, livestock, dairy and poultry products to markets - all enhanced by the burgeoning connections with broadband and wireless communications.

Yet, numerous reports and surveys point to infrastructure challenges on the horizon. Read on…


Mandated Use of Electronic Logging Devices Tops the List of Concerns in Annual Trucking Industry Survey

American Transportation Research Institute

October 3, 2016

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the trucking industry’s not-for-profit research institute, today unveiled its top industry issues report, which includes the list of the top ten critical issues facing the North American trucking industry.

The looming implementation date of the federal mandate on the use of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) topped the list of trucking industry concerns, with more than 65 percent of respondents concerned about productivity impacts the industry may experience from full deployment of ELDs.

The complete results of the annual survey, which generated more than 3,200 responses from motor carriers and commercial drivers, were released today at the 2016 Management Conference and Exhibition of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, the nation’s largest gathering of motor carrier executives.  The ATRI Top Industry Issues report also includes prioritized strategies for addressing each issue.

Dropping one position from its top ranking the past three years, Hours-of-Service (HOS) stayed near the top of the list due to ongoing uncertainty of a final HOS rule. Ranking third in this year’s survey – Cumulative Economic Impacts of Trucking Regulations – is new to the annual list and reflects the industry’s collective frustration with increasing and often costly regulatory requirements.

The lack of available truck parking moved the issue up again this year to fourth place overall and the state of the nation’s economy rounds out the top five concerns on the list.   Read on…

Link to Complete Report