100-Year-Old Law Explains Why There Are So Many Trucks on the Highway

A powerful lobby is more in interested in protecting its monopoly than lessening congestion and pollution.

1 minute read

August 11, 2017, 9:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Goods Movement

Miune / Shutterstock

"For many Americans, the experience of driving on a coastal highway like Interstate 5 in California can be a nightmare of dodging massive trucks hauling cargo between US cities," reports Erik Olsen.

According to Olsen, only 2 percent of domestic freight moving among the Lower 48 states moves by sea, despite the fact that about half the population lives near the coast.

The reason so much freight moves on the nation's roadways is the subject of Olsen's article, and credit goes to the Jones Act. The Jones Act, passed shortly after World War I, "preserves a monopoly for US-built, owned and operated ships to transport goods between US ports."

According to Olsen, the law was designed to protect American shipbuilding and "ensure that the US had ample ships to conduct international trade." The law didn't manage to protect the industry, however, and now "there are some 171 privately-owned US flagged ships today. Just 93 of them are Jones Act-eligible."

Thus, the consequences of the Jones Act in 2017 include higher costs for consumer goods as well as more freight on trucks. The latter, according to Olsen, "significantly increasing highways congestion, intensifying air pollution and further degrading the country’s infrastructure."

Olsen provides additional details about the consequences of the Jones Act, and discusses the business interests that have made the law virtually impossible to overturn.

Monday, August 7, 2017 in Quartz

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