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Open a new highway – on the sea

Traffic is getting worse; trucks can be a hazard. Let's ship cargo by sea.

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Last month, a massive accident on I-95 in Connecticut stopped traffic for 20 hours. Three people died, 9,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled, and tens of thousands of Boston and New York commuters experienced traffic delays.

The accident – which involved a diesel tanker truck, a tractor-trailer, and four cars – was a tragic loss of life. It also brought a key economic corridor to a grinding halt. And it illustrated the fragility of America's interstate highway system.

If US roads can be disrupted by a traffic accident, imagine the fallout of a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or bridge collapse. This is especially relevant as tens of millions of Americans prepare to make long drives for the holidays.

America must reduce interstate congestion, especially by trucks whose freight can become dangerous in traffic accidents. Let's try an alternative: Coastal shipping.

Coastal shipping has the potential to strengthen the resilience of America's transportation system – an important national security objective. It can also provide substantial environmental benefits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union, which moves 40 percent of its internal freight by sea, provides an example of how much America stands to gain.

The US Maritime Administration estimates that a typical barge can handle 456 containers whereas the same amount of cargo requires 228 double-stacked rail cars or 456 tractor-trailers. Studies have shown that coastal shipping could be three times more efficient at transporting cargo than long-haul trucking is. This is particularly true along the I-95 corridor between Massachusetts and Florida, where many smaller ports enjoy excellent yet underutilized access to the sea around clogged highways.

Another reason to encourage coastal shipping is America's looming transportation crisis. Consider these staggering yet unheralded statistics: By 2020, the volume of US freight traffic on the road is expected to increase by as much as 70 percent; sections of the I-95 corridor are projected to see daily truck traffic rise from 32,000 trucks in 2004 to more than 58,000 in 2020.

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