DOT Plan Would Reshape Freight Planning

DOT Plan Would Reshape Freight Planning

A proposed long-term vision to guide the Department of Transportation would focus on major freight system corridors, curb carbon use by freight operations and use more multi-jurisdiction planning instead of letting states decide how to spend much of the federal money budgeted for them.

Those are elements of what Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called “a new strategic plan that returns the focus of transportation decisions to the people who use the transportation systems and their communities.”

As LaHood and other DOT officials have indicated in recent months, the “Transportation for a New Generation” concept would shift more freight out of trucking and onto railroads, build community “livability” concepts into freight facility planning and put greenhouse gas considerations firmly into freight funding and regulatory strategies.

The department offered its draft plan for public comment starting May 4. But the DOT made clear that over the next five years it wants to implement a new results-driven set of programs.

It said the nation’s approach since the 21st century began has been that “policies and individual investment decisions for highways, public transit, railroads, seaports, inland waterways and airports often lacked an outcome-driven approach and at times conflicted with each other and with important national priorities.”

The plan hints at what could be new ways to allocate money out of large federal accounts such as the Highway Trust Fund. Now, it said, states and local highway agencies decide where to spend federal-aid funding and they “select projects that may or may not address pavement quality and bridge condition.”

It suggests that “if the federal government focuses its funding on federal interest areas, the states would be in a better position to maintain ‘their’ transportation assets using state dollars.”

And the DOT said its freight strategy will target “the multi-modal freight corridors that connect major population centers, global gateways and other major freight generators.”

The DOT says it will also use passenger rail investments to support freight rail infrastructure, and it aims to “strategically expand the marine highway system” so it can carry more containers and will develop an anti-rollover standard for heavy trucks.

The program is chock full of new ways to measure system needs and then to link that data to funding and regulatory actions, from clocking the use of freight corridors to a standard for truck stability to prevent rollovers of heavy trucks. It plans to inventory all existing port acreage and berthing spaces to guide investments so ports can prepare for growth in ocean trade.

Review the 70-page draft strategic plan.

-- Contact John D. Boyd at jboyd@joc.com.