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  October 23rd, 2015 | Written by

Draft National Freight Strategic Plan Released

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  • Transport Sec’y: U.S. faces increasingly competitive global marketplace and a deteriorating infrastructure.
  • Draft National Freight Strategic Plan looks at the nation’s freight needs and offers roadmap for improvements.
  • GROW AMERICA Act provides $18 billion over six years through two multimodal freight grant programs.

United States Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx earlier this week released the draft National Freight Strategic Plan, which offers specific policy proposals and solutions to address the growing challenges of moving freight in this country.

The plan was mandated by most recent surface transportation reauthorization law, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). The draft plan is open for public comment.

According to the most recent data released from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, freight shipments last month reached an all-time high and were 30.4 percent higher than the low reached in April 2009 during the last recession. In the next 30 years the population of the United States is expected to grow by 70 million people, and freight traffic is expected to increase by 42 percent by 2040. Concerns remain that the U.S. infrastructure cannot accommodate continued growth.

“With an increasingly competitive and complex global marketplace and a deteriorating transportation infrastructure, the need for us to have a national freight plan could not be more urgent,” said Foxx.

This draft plan takes a comprehensive look at the nation’s freight needs and future challenges and offers a roadmap for improvements. It proposes solutions and strategies to address the infrastructure, institutional, and financial bottlenecks that hinder the safe and efficient movement of goods. It also identifies many successful programs already in place to improve freight planning and investment, and proposes new programs and ideas that could make more progress possible. It also recognizes the benefits of establishing a strong freight program in the next reauthorization bill.

“Congestion on rails, surface streets, and at our ports across the Pacific Northwest costs businesses billions of dollars a year and gives an edge to competitors around the globe,” said Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington). “The National Freight Strategic Plan means places like Seattle and Tacoma will be part of our national strategy to quickly move products through traffic congested areas.”

The national strategy include efforts to reduce congestion and increase efficiency while improving safety and reliability, and reducing adverse impacts on the environment and communities. This will include incorporating new technologies allowing for better quality data collection and faster analysis of freight routes, travel times, and infrastructure capacity. It also means breaking down institutional impediments, such as conflicting priorities at the federal, state and local levels, and unnecessarily complex and lengthy permitting and approval processes.

The draft plan emphasizes the importance of a dedicated freight program that would improve the movement of freight and meet regional economic demand and would require or incentivize State Freight Advisory Committees, State Freight Plans, and cross-jurisdictional/cooperative planning.  The GROW AMERICA Act would provide $18 billion over six years through two dedicated, multimodal freight grant programs for targeted investments.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is releasing a draft Multimodal Freight Network (MFN) map to inform planners, private sector stakeholders, and the public about where major freight flows occur and where special attention to freight issues may be most warranted. DOT and the U.S. Department of Commerce have monitored and analyzed major trade gateways and freight corridors for decades, but the draft MFN combines the most critical modal components and shows the connections between them.

U.S. DOT will continue its work to support local, state, and interagency collaboration, including close cooperation with port authorities, private sector stakeholders, and agencies in Canada and Mexico; sharing best practices for freight planning; supporting advisory committees and public forums with stakeholders; and encouraging effective use of funding available at the national level.

DOT will continue to develop and deploy newer and more advanced freight data resources to the planning community and advance the measurement and analysis of transit times for different commodities from a multimodal, origin-to-destination perspective. Congress could enhance U.S. DOT’s authority to collect intermodal freight data by giving U.S. DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics the authority to assemble intermodal freight movement data under the Intermodal Transportation Data Program, as proposed in the GROW AMERICA Act.

U.S. DOT is committed to promoting economic opportunity through high-quality transportation jobs under the draft plan. Efforts include developing freight skills for state transportation agency and MPO staff through a growing body of resources and guidance on freight planning, and pushing for greater authority to develop workforce plans.