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The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a request for information to help craft a National Freight Strategic Plan.
The National Freight Strategic Plan, required by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, is meant to help inform infrastructure planning and support the efficiency of freight movement. According to a document published in the Federal Register on Dec. 27, DOT is calling for input from trade groups, owner-operators, shippers and state and local government representatives.
The plan will take into account the nation’s entire freight transportation system, which includes 7 million miles of roadways, rail, waterways and pipelines that are linked by seaports, airports and intermodal hubs.
“The safe and efficient movement of freight is vital to the nation’s economic growth and to the creation of well-paying jobs for millions of Americans,” the Federal Register document states.
The FAST Act required DOT to include 11 components in the plan, including an assessment of the National Multimodal Freight Network, forecasts of future freight volumes, an inventory of major trade gateways and corridors and the identification of severe traffic bottlenecks.
The FAST Act also required DOT to assess barriers to improved freight transportation performance, develop a process to encourage jurisdictions to collaborate on projects, create strategies to improve freight connectivity and identify corridors leading to energy production areas and natural resources.
Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, said a strategic plan should consider the dynamics that are emerging around e-commerce as well as opportunities surrounding regional hauls, which Roeth described as the “middle mile.” These trips, generally shorter than over-the-road runs, involve predictable routes and usually result in the driver getting home every night.
“That one’s really important because it affects truck stops, it affects infrastructure [and] it affects where we should put electric charging,” Roeth told Transport Topics.
The National Freight Strategic Plan experienced delays gaining momentum. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act of 2012 required DOT to develop the plan, although the agency didn’t issue a draft plan until October 2015.
Elaine Nessle, executive director of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors, said she is pleased that DOT has reenergized the plan through a request for information. She said a strategic plan can help guide where funding is directed, and identified critical freight gateways and hubs as two areas that could use more investment.
“The coalition has always called for a national strategy that guides investment so that we’re clear that where federal funding is being invested will have a positive impact on national goods movement and regional goods movement,” Nessle said. “Absent a strategic plan, it’s difficult to assess where those investments should be made to yield the highest benefit.”
The FAST Act, signed in December 2015, required DOT to continue to develop the plan and expand it to include a multimodal approach.
DOT estimated that, in 2015, the U.S. transportation system moved about 49 million tons of freight per day. In 2017, the transportation industry supported the employment of 13.3 million people.
Freight tonnage is expected to increase. According to the Federal Register notice, DOT estimates that freight tonnage will increase by 44% between 2015 and 2045, placing additional strain on the transportation system.
The American Transportation Research Institute reports the industry loses $74.5 billion a year sitting in traffic.
Roeth said growing cities present opportunities for truck-to-truck deliveries. He said longhaul trucks can drop loads on the outskirts of large cities, at which point smaller trucks that are better suited to urban environments can pick up the freight and bring it to its final destination.
“With growing cities comes more opportunities for extending intermodal,” Roeth said. “We think there’s probably intermodal amongst trucking.”
The Federal Register document mentions the balancing roles rural and urban communities play in the movement of freight. Urban areas drive domestic freight demand, while rural areas generate many important goods, such as agricultural products, coal and other raw materials. About two-thirds of freight tonnage shipped by rail in the U.S. originates in rural areas.
“To safely and efficiently deliver goods to consumers, freight supply chains have become increasingly complex and shippers and beneficial cargo owners are reliant on the interplay between multiple transportation modes,” the document states.
Comments related to the draft plan are due to DOT by Feb. 10, 2020.
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