National Freight Strategic Plan is issued by U.S. Department of Transportation

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor · September 4, 2020

At a time when it the current federal transportation authorization—the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act—is set to expire, at the end of September, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) this week issued a National Freight Strategic Plan (NFSP).

DOT said this plan is the first of its kind and is focused bolstering the nation’s economic competetiveness through long-term investments in infrastructure, the workforce, and other key parts of the national freight system.

“This plan establishes a clear vision for the future of our nation’s freight transportation system, and it outlines how the United States can maintain our competitive edge across major industries like agriculture, manufacturing, energy production and e-commerce,” said DOT Secretary Elaine Chao in a video. “Our current freight system faces significant challenges. The rise of e-commerce has disrupted supply chains and increased demand for last-mile deliveries in areas that are already heavily congested. And the U.S. has become a net energy exporter, for the first time in decades. And this has far reaching multimodal implications. In addition, innovative technologies have the potential to disrupt our transportation network even further, from automated delivery vehicles on our roads and highways to drones in our skies fulfilling some of these last mile deliveries.”

Chao also noted that the country’s economic security depends upon ensuring that its roads and highways, railroads, maritime systems and pipelines can adapt to innovative technologies and changing freight demand, which requires leadership at all levels of government. This National Freight Strategic Plan (NFSP) will help the country invest strategically into its future and turn these challenges into opportunities, she said.

DOT officials explained the NFSP defines the U.S. DOT’s vision and goals for the national multimodal freight system, assesses the conditions and performance of the freight system and barriers to freight system performance, and defines strategies to achieve its vision and goals. Anfd they explained that the Plan was developed through a multiagency effort involving extensive consultation with freight stakeholders in both the public and private sectors.

“The Department will use this Plan to guide national freight policy, programs, initiatives, and investments; inform State freight plans; identify freight data and research needs; and provide a framework for increased cross-sector, multijurisdictional, and multimodal coordination and partnerships,” said DOT.

And it outlined four principles that can be used to guide U.S. DOT’s strategic leadership to support safe, efficient, and reliable goods movement, including:

Modernizing or eliminating unnecessary or duplicative regulations that inhibit supply chain efficiency, reduce incentives to innovation, delay project delivery, or raise costs to shippers and consumers, while protecting safety and environmental outcomes;

Improving cross-sector, multijurisdictional, and multimodal collaboration to enhance intermodal connectivity and first- and last-mile connections, streamline interstate policies and regulations, and support multi-state investment.

Providing targeted Federal resources and financial assistance to support freight projects that provide significant benefits to the national economy; and

Investing in freight data, analytical tools, and research to enhance the abilities of State, regional, and local agencies to evaluate and address freight issues

What’s more, the NSFP also focuses on national freight policy strategic goals and objectives with a key focus on safety, infrastructure, and innovation.

The strategic objectives for infrastructure, which is of particular importance for myriad supply chain, logistics, and freight transportation stakeholders, include: funding targeted investments in freight capacity and national goals; improving consideration of freight in transportation planning; prioritizing projects that improve freight intermodal connectivity, and enhance freight flows on first- and last-mile connectors at major trade gateways; developing a methodology for identifying freight bottlenecks across modes; advancing freight system management and operation practices; stimulating job growth and economic competitiveness in rural and urban communities; and mitigating the impacts of freight movement on communities.

Randy Mullett, principal of Mullett Strategies, a consulting practice focused on helping clients navigate the intricacies of Washington, DC in the areas of trucking, freight, sustainability, security, and safety, and longtime Government Relations and Public Affairs official for Con-way and XPO Logistics, said that the NSFP provides some reasons for optimism moving forward.

“I am happy the plan was released, and that it is a serious effort to understand and put a framework in place to better understand freight and put emphasis on programs and data that will allow us to make better investment decisions.” He said. “Continuing to highlight the importance of freight will only help to make the U.S. freight system more effective and help U.S. consumers, manufacturers, farmers, etc. compete internationally and continue to have low logistics costs, fast transit times, and many options. I was somewhat disappointed there were not more specific policy recommendations but this is a great first step.”

And the NSFP also received a strong endorsement from Leslie Blakey, president of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC), a concern focused on raising public recognition and Congressional awareness regarding the need to significantly expand U.S. freight transportation capabilities and promote sufficient funding in federal legislation for trade corridors, gateways, intermodal connectors, and freight facilities.

“Our national freight network is complex and dynamic, a system of systems, constantly adapting to the demands of industry, technology, and safety,” said Blakey. “We applaud the USDOT in releasing this National Freight Strategic Plan, which has been a longstanding policy goal for our organization, and identifying a number of challenges our nation faces in keeping the system robust: safety, network efficiency, infrastructure condition, and barriers to freight system performance. Among these, the Coalition for America’s Gateways & Trade Corridors (CAGTC) believes infrastructure condition looms heaviest over all. When infrastructure fails – whether a failure of condition or capacity – safety, efficiency, performance and security all fail. Therefore, we look forward to the future release of the National Multimodal Freight Network, which will help provide a systematic structure for infrastructure investment, as called for in the FAS T Act.”

September 4, 2020