Calls for a national freight strategy reached receptive ears this past year. The next steps are to build a national freight strategy and funding plan that truly is national and strategic in nature. It should be guided by what will result in the greatest net benefit to the overall freight system.
That means we should focus local, state and federal investments to build upon the strengths of existing freight corridors for the greater good, not just building new infrastructure to increase capacity that creates redundancy in the system.
When considering where to invest in freight infrastructure capacity, existing road and rail that already serves U.S. population centers across the country should serve as the basis. Let’s build upon the considerable strengths we’ve established through the highway and rail corridors that serve our main gateways.
Our approach should be multimodal in nature. No single mode — shipping, trucking or rail — can fully accommodate our freight needs. Too often, individual modes have been pitted against each other in the scramble for scarce money. A national strategy must rise above the differences, look at the entire supply chain and invest in each mode, focusing especially on the first mile/last mile around ports, to alleviate intermodal chokepoints.
These investments should be driven by solid performance metrics that show how much they will improve the triple bottom line of speed, reliability and environmental protection. They also should be viewed in the competitive international landscape in which they exist. We need to include performance measures that allow us to better understand how our freight system compares at a global level to improve export connections to overseas markets.
Let’s make 2013 the year we take tangible steps to make this strategy work.