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Chinese on the menu

MBTA holiday meeting looks east for clues to Maine transportation future

Forget your outdated vision of China as a transportation backwater where goods and services move on the backs of pack animals over an antiquated network of unpaved roads. Today, more often than not, Chinese workers commute via high speed rail, and Chinese products move on a modern freight network that seamlessly links the factory floor with markets throughout the world.

MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole recently returned from a fact-finding mission to mainland China with a group of U.S. transportation officials. At the MBTA Holiday Meeting in Bangor on December 13, Cole offered his views on China’s explosive growth in infrastructure investment.

“You can see the progress. It’s very, very real,” said Cole who through statistics and photos created a strong sense of awe for the accomplishments achieved by China during the past decade. He said that progress is readily evident in efficient new ports and cities where there once were none and a newly constructed network of highways and rail lines that crisscross the expansive country.

A national strategy

China’s impressive expansion of its transportation network has been the result of a top-down “national strategic plan for transportation” that Cole described as “management by objective.” He said that plan has been devised and implemented by leaders that clearly understand the connections between investment in roads, highways and freight and the enormous payoffs in economic development being experienced by that country.

“Bottlenecks are viewed as challenges, and Chinese leaders have the courage to deal with them,” said Cole. He said that fearless, can-do attitude has created marvelous results when coupled with a public-private approach to financing. One such example is the ground-up construction of Yangshan-Shanghai, the largest container port in the world and an entirely new urban center for 300,000 residents that will support the port’s operations.

Cole brought the visions of China home for MBTA members with a few choice lessons that can be learned by looking east.

 “Our economy can only be as good as our ability to tap into global markets,” said Cole. That will mean developing container freight capabilities – including a container port and rail freight – that can be a vital connection for shippers looking to link with markets throughout the U.S. and Canada.

He said that it will require recognizing that growth of “jobs in transportation logistics will eclipse manufacturing” and making sure that Maine is positioned to take better advantage of the flow of freight.

Cole’s final observations were to act decisively – and soon – to make investments in Maine’s future. “China’s progress doesn’t have to come at our expense. There is a lot of opportunity there,” said Cole.

Holiday cheer

Cole’s presentation – and the chance to share holiday cheer with their fellow MBTA members – brought 130 members and friends to the meeting at the Black Bear Inn in Orono. Scott Leach, MBTA’s immediate past president, served as the evening’s emcee.

In his opening remarks, Leach looked back on a successful year for the organization that included legislative passage of important new transportation legislation – LD 1790: “An Act to Secure Maine’s Transportation Future” – and voter passage of a $113 million transportation bond package. He urged members to continue their support for transportation investment in 2008, as the MBTA works to get LD 1790 funded by the Maine legislature.

Leach and MBTA Vice President Greg Dore also announced the winners of the sold-out MBTA Super Raffle. Five hundred tickets were sold, raising $17,000 for transportation scholarships that will be awarded by the MBTA Educational Foundation. Michelle Raber, who purchased her ticket from her brother Phil Grondin, Jr., won the grand prize – a $7,000 trip to a location of her choice anywhere in the world. Leach also thanked Bruce Hubbard, the top ticket seller, who sold more than 130 Super Raffle tickets.

Another member proved he had the golden touch when it came to recruiting new members. Rodney Lane took top spot in the Membership Committee Contest. He won a $500 L.L. Bean gift certificate for recruiting 12 new members for the MBTA.

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