- The Department of Transportation released a National Freight Strategic Plan Thursday to help implement the National Multimodal Freight Policy. The plan outlines goals and strategies to guide multimodal freight policies, investments and programs at the federal and state levels. The policy and its plan were created under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act — passed in 2015 and set to expire Sept. 30.
- The plan identifies freight challenges and data and research needs, and intends to provide a framework for increased cross-sector and cross-mode collaboration between federal, state and local authorities. It was developed with input from multiple agencies, as well as carriers, shippers and other stakeholders in the public and private sectors.
- According to the plan, the federal government will contribute in four overarching ways: updating or eliminating regulations that increase costs for shippers and consumers; improving collaboration between stakeholders, including multi-state investment; providing federal funds specifically for freight projects; and investing in data, analytics and research.
With a patchwork of jurisdiction and responsibility between the federal government, state governments and private companies, the federal government's role in modernization and improvement can be unclear. But the four ways DOT said it will contribute — particularly with federal funding targeted specifically to freight projects and regulatory rollbacks — could yield tangible results, if followed through.
DOT focuses on furthering its three strategic goals: infrastructure, safety and innovation.
"Infrastructure condition looms heaviest overall," the Coalition for America's Gateways & Trade Corridors said in a statement. "When infrastructure fails – whether a failure of condition or capacity – safety, efficiency, performance and security all fail."
On this front, "freight projects face special challenges when competing for funding from that limited pool of resources," the plan's executive summary states. The department said issues, including congestion, noise and emissions, make some infrastructure projects unattractive to local jurisdictions. Multistate projects also fall low on the funding priority list "since planners tend to focus on benefits to their community or jurisdiction," the plan said.
To address these and other infrastructure challenges, the department plans to:
- Fund targeted investments.
- Increase the consideration freight receives in transportation planning.
- Prioritize projects that improve intermodal connectivity and freight flows on first- and last-mile connectors and at major trade gateways.
- Develop a way to identify bottlenecks across modes.
- Make progress on system management and operation practices.
- Create jobs and encourage market competition in rural and urban communities.
- Mitigate the negative impacts freight movement has on communities.
The department identified increased traffic on highways, driver performance and behavior, and a lack of truck parking among key safety challenges. To address these and other concerns, the plan outlines these objectives for the federal government:
- Support the development and adoption of automation, connectivity and other technology.
- Modernize oversight and security procedures.
- Combat fatigue and human error.
- Reduce conflicts between passenger and freight traffic.
- Increase protection from natural and human-caused disasters and improve resilience and recovery speed.
When it comes to technology and innovation, the plan touts adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and truck platooning. Though it also said, "there are significant technological and institutional barriers to the widespread adoption of highly automated trucks."
The agency is looking for technology to increase the overall efficiency of freight movement and plans to:
- Support the development and adoption of automation and connectivity, including technologies related to connected-vehicle-to-everything, known as V2X.
- Support the safe deployment of drones.
- Streamline or eliminate regulations to improve governance, efficiency and economic competitiveness, while supporting regulations that allow for innovation.
- Improve freight data, modeling, and analytical tools and resources, and invest in freight research.
- Support efforts to fill the workforce pipeline.
The plan also acknowledged safety, network efficiency (particularly bottlenecks), deteriorating infrastructure and other hindrances to freight system performance as potential hazards.
DOT said it will now work on designating the National Multimodal Freight Network, also mandated under the FAST Act and currently in interim form. The network identifies facilities, routes and infrastructure, with the intention of increasing freight movement efficiency. The Coalition for America's Gateways & Trade Corridors is eagerly awaiting the network's release, saying it "will help provide a systematic structure for infrastructure investment."