USDOT Releases National Freight Strategic Plan

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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The United States Department of Transportation has released a National Freight Strategic Plan, which the agency says is the “first ever.” The NFSP, USDOT says, “lays out a vision for long-term investments in infrastructure, the workforce, and other essential parts of the freight system.”

The NFSP has three “goals,” each of which has “strategic objectives”:

Safety: Improve the safety, security, and resilience of the national freight system:

  1. Support the development and adoption of automation, connectivity, and other freight safety technologies.
  2. Modernize safety oversight and security procedures.
  3. Minimize the effects of fatigue and human error on freight safety.
  4. Reduce conflicts between passenger and freight traffic.
  5. Protect the freight system from natural and human-caused disasters and improve system resilience and recovery speed.

Infrastructure: Modernize freight infrastructure and operations to grow the economy, increase competitiveness, and improve quality of life:

  1. Fund targeted investments in freight capacity and national goals.
  2. Improve consideration of freight in transportation planning.
  3. Prioritize projects that improve freight intermodal connectivity, and enhance freight flows on first- and last-mile connectors and at major trade gateways.
  4. Develop a methodology for identifying freight bottlenecks across modes.
  5. Advance freight system management and operation practices.
  6. Stimulate job growth and economic competitiveness in rural and urban communities.
  7. Mitigate the impacts of freight movement on communities.

Innovation: Prepare for the future by supporting the development of data, technologies, and workforce capabilities that improve freight system performance:

  1. Support the development and adoption of automation and connectivity, including V2X technologies.
  2. Support the safe deployment of UAS technology.
  3. Streamline or eliminate regulations to improve governance, efficiency, and economic competitiveness.
  4. Improve freight data, modeling, and analytical tools and resources.
  5. Strengthen workforce professional capacity.
  6. Invest in freight research.
  7. Support regulatory frameworks that foster freight innovation.

“Every day, America’s transportation network moves more than 51 million tons of freight and energy products valued at nearly $52 billion via highways, railways, ports and inland waterways, pipelines, and airports,” USDOT said. “The growth in freight demand due to increasing use of e-commerce and global supply chains in recent years has strained our freight system, and could threaten the competitive advantage of American businesses. As these supply chains continue to spread across the world, America’s ability to compete could be limited by inadequate infrastructure and a lack of preparation for incorporating innovative technologies.

“The NFSP provides a clear path to improve the safety, security, and resilience of the national freight system. It also details how we can modernize freight infrastructure and operations to grow the economy and increase competitiveness. Additionally, the NFSP lays out a plan to prepare for the future by supporting the development of data, technologies, and workforce capabilities that improve freight system performance.”

Download the NFSP:

Download the NFSB Executive Summary:

Jim Blaze Perspective: “It’s All Pretty Vague”

Railroad economist and planner and Railway Age Contributing Editor, after scrutinizing the 118-page NFSP, raises several questions, calling the plan “vague,” and lacking in data as well as a well-defined funding stream. Following are his observations:

“Flip to the last few pages (about page 100 or so). USDOT admits it still lacks data necessary to drive smart innovation. That’s not a good starting point for planners. USDOT says safety is it’s ‘top strategic goal.’ Maybe. But it is not addressed until page 86!

“Where is the R&D? The USDOT checklist has 19 theoretical ‘to do’ boxes. Research is 18th on the list (see page 85). There is no real articulated federal sponsored R&D budget. It’s all pretty vague. There is no actual R&D plan listed. Why not?

“The USDOT lists ‘INSTITUTIONAL BARRIERS AND FINANCIAL ISSUES,’ but feds hand off the ‘heavy decision lifting’ to the States. Say what?

“As far as intermodalism is concerned, things like poor intermodal connector links have been studied for about five decades, starting at the CATS (Chicago Area Transportation Study) MPO urban goods movement planning group. Where is the progress report? USDOT offers none. Instead, it just gives us the latest bad report card update. That’s not a plan, is it?

“Bridge condition issues similarly have been well known for decades. This is not news—and is not a plan. It appears as though USDOT sees increasing climatic-like changes damaging/threatening transport infrastructure. Great But where’s the plan to attack this with funding? Assertion of a plan without funding is simply a recognition of need. Its not a ‘here’s how we will fix it plan’ statement.

“The  highway bottleneck map is nice, but I’ve been watching this bottleneck map for about three decades. Fixing it requires fresh money. Where’s the committed funding? Without funding, it’s just a long continuing wish list.

“Rail bottlenecks? The expected long-term growth of national rail freight ton-miles is in fact just as likely now to decline. That reversal, if true, means rail freight bottlenecks in some areas might decline, including around Chicago. That potential reversal isn’t recognized in this latest conceptual plan statement. Instead, it’s a statement by USDOT to continue on with the Chicago CREATE rail plans as if the strategic assumption of growth dating back to 1972 and the late 1990s are still correct. They might not be.

“Economists recognize that all plans need to be re-evaluated because of changed circumstances. That is not evident in this 2020 document.”

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