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DOT Rolls Out National Freight Strategic Plan

FreightWaves

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on Thursday unveiled for the first time a national freight transportation strategy that aims to guide national freight policy and investment and provide a framework for better multimodal coordination.

The National Freight Strategic Plan, required under the 2015 Fast Act (which expires at the end of September), received 82 comments from state agencies, associations and private companies following a "request for information" issued late last year.

"This plan establishes a clear vision for the future of our nation's freight transportation system," said DOT Secretary Elaine Chao in announcing the plan. "It outlines how the United States can maintain our competitive edge across major industries, like agriculture, manufacturing, energy production and e-commerce."

The 118-page plan, which outlines strategic objectives across all freight transportation modes, is guided by four principles:

  • Modernize or eliminate 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.

  • Improve cross-sector, multijurisdictional and multimodal collaboration to enhance intermodal connectivity and first- and last-mile connections, streamline interstate policies and regulations, and support multistate investment.

  • Provide targeted federal resources and financial assistance to support freight projects that provide significant benefits to the national economy.

  • Invest in freight data, analytical tools and research to enhance the abilities of state, regional and local agencies to evaluate and address freight issues.

The plan highlighted eight "key trends" in U.S. freight transportation — among them diversifying global supply chains, rising domestic energy production, changing urban-rural dynamics and increasing e-commerce.

"E-commerce is clearly a major trend that is leading to rapid changes in supply chains, increasing demand for air cargo, residential deliveries and reverse logistics," said Acting Undersecretary of Transportation for Policy Joel Szabat. "Advancing technologies and innovations also are transforming how freight is delivered."

Shipment characteristics by transportation mode (2017). Source: U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Szabat also underscored the rising importance of data for making investment decisions. "Freight planners of all levels of government rely on data to make informed decisions about infrastructure investment," he said. "Improving access to timely, consistent and actionable freight data is a major priority for this administration."

The plan also outlined a list of safety challenges as freight transportation activity increases. "Key factors that may affect truck safety include increased traffic volume on the Nation's highway networks, driver performance and behavior, and insufficient truck parking in rest zones," the plan notes.

Szabat said DOT anticipates issuing before the end of the year an accompanying National Multimodal Freight Network — also required by the Fast Act — that reflects the trends, challenges and strategies identified in the strategic plan. "We expect that this network will help decision-makers further improve future investments in our freight system."

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