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December 27, 2018 9:30 AM, EST

Freight Transportation, Infrastructure Issues Headline TRB Annual Meeting

Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Infrastructure funding — who provides it, the federal government or the states, and how much — will be a leading topic at the annual Transportation Research Board meeting. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

Academics, stakeholders, policymakers and agency officials from every level of government are expected to meet in downtown Washington in January for one of the largest gatherings of the country’s transportation community.

The 98th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board is scheduled to kick off Jan. 13 at the city’s convention center. Top transportation officers at the U.S. Department of Transportation, freight transportation agencies and groups are among the keynote speakers.

An emphasis on infrastructure funding proposals is expected to dominate discussions at workshops, as President Donald Trump and the leaders of the U.S. House and Senate have declared their support for advancing highway policy measures in 2019 aimed at ensuring long-term solvency of transportation accounts.

State officials, from governors to departments of transportation secretaries, argue federal funding assistance would help them improve freight connectivity and reduce congestion for commercial drivers, as well as commuters.

A report the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine unveiled recently recommended federal policymakers look to raise and index federal fuel taxes. Doing so, the report’s authors claim, would quickly address urgent funding needs for the transportation corridors nationwide.

The National Academies was directed to produce the report and recommend best practices for achieving long-term funding for large scale projects. Federal funding authority expires in less than two years. The federal 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas and 24.4-cents-per-gallon diesel taxes have not been raised since 1993.

Also appearing at TRB will be the trucking industry’s top regulatory body. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials have scheduled their annual policy review session on Jan. 15.

The session will look to highlight safety priorities and crash prediction models, trends and research initiatives as well as update attendees about automated commercial motor vehicles. Advancements of platooning systems also will be addressed, the agency announced.

FMCSA technology division officer Jeffrey Loftus will be among the team of presenters.

According to a report by the American Transportation Research Institute, top issues affecting trucking’s daily operations include a shortage of drivers and retention of those in the workforce, as well as allowable hours-of-service policies, highway parking and the requirement of electronic logging devices that record drive times.

Among the event’s top attractions will be autonomous technology. TRB will feature a test ride in an autonomous shuttle as well as a prototype of an automated passenger car. In October, U.S. DOT unveiled its policy update of autonomous vehicles. The central principles included: prioritizing safety, remaining technology neutral, modernizing regulations, encouraging consistent regulations, preparing proactively for automation, and protecting freedoms guaranteed to citizens.

On Jan. 13, TRB will host its “Careers in Motion” networking fair as a way to provide prospective employers with a venue for connecting with professionals seeking advancement in the transportation sector. Organizers will debut a feature to provide complimentary headshots to attendees.

“While you are in the exhibit hall, visit the TRB booth to get your complimentary headshot portrait taken by a professional photographer and e-mailed directly to you. Also don’t forget to check out the exhibit hall’s new TRB Live! theaters where you can attend 30-minute presentations on the goods, services and solutions provided by exhibitors and patrons,” event organizers said.

Also at TRB, organizers will honor former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters on Jan. 16. She served under former President George W. Bush from 2006 to 2009. Peters will be recognized with the Frank Turner Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Transportation.

TRB will feature a smartphone application consisting of a schedule of the hundreds of sessions and events. Attendees also will be able to scan plans, learn background about exhibitors and create an itinerary of favorite events, presentations, subjects and meetings. The app may be downloaded by searching “TRB 2019.”

The 98th TRB is scheduled for Jan. 13-17 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington.