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Combined Transport's move saves fuel, reduces carbon dioxide

CENTRAL POINT — Mike Card has long wanted to move his fleet of trucks, flatbeds and refrigerator units closer to the freeway.

It took a little while longer than the president of the family operation may have liked, but Combined Transport is now operating out of a 31-acre site near the Blackwell Road exit.

"We estimate that's taking 100,000 miles off Highway 62 and Vilas Road per year," Card said. "At 5 miles per gallon, that's a savings of 20,000 gallons (of diesel) and a quarter of a million pounds of carbon dioxide in the air."

It also will add up to $200,000 annual savings for Combined Transport, known for its flatbed trailers traversing the continent with unusual heavy-haul loads, glass and windmill components. When the company acquired Blackwell Consolidation from Mike DeSimone on the last day of 2012, the company added refrigerated trucking to its lineup. Combined Transport also gained space and the benefit of an intermodal railroad connection.

Now, Combined Transport, which generates $125 million annual revenue, has a new eight-bay maintenance and washing facility servicing the company's 525 trucks operated by 450 drivers and a support staff of 110. Another 70 owner-operators augment the company's operations.

Many of the issues Card tackled while chairman of the American Trucking Associations board in 2012-2013 remain at the forefront of the industry.

A growing population's demand for goods keeps the pressure on for more deliveries, adding to congestion, especially in major metropolitan areas. Card said better infrastructure could reduce congestion.

"Obviously, we need more infrastructure, better bridges and more lanes," Card said. "You can build highways, but if they're falling apart, you need to put more money into making it right the first time."

Trucking and rail interests don't always converge, often pushing legislation to restrict the other industry. Nonetheless, there is growth in the intermodal shipping, where the two competing freight transportation groups work together.

So far, the freight going through the transload center at the Blackwell site is delivered by Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad, but Card is hoping to see trucked goods reloaded on to rail cars in the future.

American Trucking Associations research indicates trucking firms continue to gain market share.

"Intermodal growth is quite robust," Card said. "But it's still a small fraction in the overall freight industry. At the same time, there are fewer rail and boxcars and more trucks on the road."

AAT figures show increased market share and that, in turn, has crowded roadways.

"I don't know if it shows up any more in one part of the country than the other," he said. "But in the big cities, it's worse than ever."

Even though Combined Transport drivers earn an average of $60,000 annually, a driver shortage has idled some trucks in the yard.

"We could use 50 drivers right now," Card said. "Some on I-5 and some on 48-state runs. When we sit trucks, it's a cost we can't recover."

Although there are fewer durable goods being shipped right now, construction has kept trucking firms busy.

"Import/export is way down and China trade is down," Card said. "I think the stronger dollar is the single biggest issue in dealing with that. There was way too much inventory, but I think it's starting to work its way through the supply chain. Nobody is going out to build new manufacturing plants or manufacturing a bunch."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Combined Transport has opened its new transload facility on Blackwell Road. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch