Determining ways to measure the conditions and performance of a national freight work emerged as a top priority for the Transportation Department’s newly formed Freight Policy Council on Thursday.
The council — aimed at creating a national freight strategy — invited interested parties ranging from policymakers to carriers to have their say on what metrics and other considerations should guide the shaping of a plan. The council is also looking to get more states to develop their own freight plans and is still discussing what a national plan should embody. The formation of the council to build the nation’s first freight policy was called for by Congress in its recently passed $105 billion surface transportation bill.
“We must tackle three key challenges. First, we must develop a national strategic vision on freight. Second, the public and private sector must work together to invest in our nation’s freight network. And third, we must and plan delivery freight infrastructure projects faster and more efficiently than ever,” said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood.
One suggestion was that DOT determine the major traffic flows and of what commodities, and determine which freight projects are needed and their costs. The Maryland Department of Transportation did both before unveiling its freight plan in 2009, said Nicole Katsikides, director of MDOT’s office of freight and intermodalism.
“We realized that some of these projects could be resolved through policy solutions or modes talking to each other,” she said.
For instance, the problem of highway congestion could be solved by increasing freight rail capacity nearby, helping to fix two problems with one project. Her comments paralleled those of Randy Mullett, Con-way vice president of government relations and public affairs. Instead of focusing only on improving the physical infrastructure, particularly in an uncertain funding climate, he emphasized looking at how changes in operations, such as double-stacking container rail trains, can provide modal efficiencies.
He added that the transportation industry needs to “get beyond the idea that this is some kinds of zero-sum game.” There will be more than enough freight for all carriers in the coming years, but they won’t be up to the task unless they cooperate.
Freight projects should also be funded by their worth, not on whose legislative representatives “shout the loudest and have the most political power,” Mullett said. One way to minimize the influence of political clout on the project funding process is to create a matrix determining an initiative’s worth. Reliability, the top concern for ocean shipping customers, should feature prominently in any type of metric used to create a freight plan, said Bill Kenwell, senior vice president and chief commercial officer at Maersk Line Ltd.
Other suggestions that came from attendees of the listening session include:
— Creation of a freight-focused office in the DOT to complement the council.
— Gain more traffic data from carriers and better use already public data.
— Metrics should also measure safety, air quality and lifecycle managements costs.
— Pay particular attention to the first and last mile of the supply chain.
Those interested in shaping the freight plan can share their ideas and comments via an online platform.