National Freight Strategy Framework
Section I. Introduction
In October of 2015, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) published a draft National Freight Strategic Plan (the "draft Plan"). The draft Plan was developed to prepare for the projected growth in freight demand over the next several decades, and also responded to a requirement in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). The draft Plan represented a current and comprehensive assessment of the trends and challenges facing America's freight transportation system and outlined potential strategies to improve the system to support a strong economy for the nation's future.
Since the release of the draft Plan, President Obama signed into law the first surface transportation bill to provide significant multi-year, dedicated funding for freight planning and projects, and revised and expanded key statutory freight provisions first introduced in MAP-21. This new law, the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, addressed several key challenges identified in the draft Plan and in the Administration's earlier proposed reauthorization legislation, Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America Act (GROW AMERICA). Significantly, the FAST Act requires DOT to produce a National Freight Strategic Plan ("Final Plan") by December 2017 that addresses future challenges for transportation that were identified in both the FAST Act and GROW AMERICA. Because of the near-term delivery requirement for the next Plan, DOT opted not to finalize the October 2015 draft Plan under the provisions of MAP-21 (now expired) but rather to devote its resources to completing the next Plan under the provisions of the FAST Act, which will also build off of the draft Plan.
The following material is intended to reflect on the progress made to address freight challenges over the last eight years and to provide thoughts on the future of freight and the role of the Federal Government as the next Administration prepares to take office. It will be the responsibility of the next Administration to continue to implement the provisions of the FAST Act and to advocate for multimodal freight policies and programs that improve the safety, efficiency, and condition of our freight system. In particular, the next Administration will be responsible for the development of the Final National Freight Strategic Plan, as required under 49 U.S.C. 70102. This document is intended as a reflection on the lessons learned by this Administration with regard to freight policy over the last eight years as well as suggestions about the future direction of freight policies that this Administration believes should be considered during the development of the Final Plan next year.
It is our view that the next Plan required by the FAST Act should offer a shared vision for a future freight economy that is robust, flexible, efficient, resilient, sustainable and above all, safe. The framework of the draft Plan remains relevant and can solidly support the structure of the next Plan--one that we think should continue to reflect the needs and priorities of the public, freight industry and the multimodal nature of goods movement in the United States, as well as address new criteria from the FAST Act.
In addition, we suggest that the next Plan should expand on certain critical aspects of transportation identified in the draft Plan and in this Future Directions document. In particular, core subjects described in the draft Plan, such as safety, the environment, advanced vehicles and the future of the transportation network ought to be given even greater emphasis in the next Plan. This document also highlights critical themes from the DOT's Beyond Traffic framework released in 2017, the extensive public engagement across the country as part of the "Beyond Traffic" Freight Economy roundtables, a focus on future urban needs fostered by the Smart Cities challenge grant competition of 2016, and outreach areas such as Every Day Counts (EDC) and Ladders of Opportunity that facilitate greater efficiency and a more human face to freight transportation to improve the impact of freight transportation projects and programs.
The following excerpt from the Executive Summary of the draft Plan framed the current context of freight transportation in America:
"Our nation's freight transportation system is a vast, complex network of almost seven million miles of highways, local roads, railways, navigable waterways, airports, and pipelines. The components of this network are linked to each other through thousands of seaports, airports, and intermodal facilities. This system accommodates the movement of raw materials and finished products from the entire spectrum of the agricultural, industrial, retail, and service sectors of our economy. More than 3.1 million Americans are employed in operating and supporting the millions of trucks, trains, aircraft, ships, and barges that traverse this network, as well as in businesses that coordinate the logistics of these operations. Collectively, this multimodal network directly supports 44 million jobs and affects the quality of life that every American has come to rely on today. It is a critical force in the world's largest economy, with United States (U.S.) gross domestic product (GDP) estimated to be $17.4 trillion in 2015. Each day, the system moves 55 million tons of goods, worth more than $49 billion; over the course of a year, that amounts to 63 tons per person
Moving local, regional, national and global products safely, efficiently, reliably, and in an environmentally-sustainable manner is critical to the continued growth and success of our nation's economy. Historically, we have been well served to meet these challenges by one of the world's best transportation systems. Freight is moved by private sector entities on infrastructure built and operated by a mix of Federal, State, and local governmental agencies and private sector companies. The United States has one of the lowest costs of transportation and logistics as a percent of Gross Domestic Product in the world, providing the Nation with a competitive advantage in world commerce.
In the FAST Act, Congress identified ten goals pertaining to the National Multimodal Freight Policy, many of which relate to support for the National Multimodal Freight Network and U.S. economic competitiveness, including jobs and domestic industries. The multimodal policy of the FAST Act is very similar to the National Freight Policy of MAP-21, although it is now explicitly multimodal and has some additional provisions. The FAST Act specifies goals associated with this national policy related to the condition, safety, security, efficiency, productivity, resiliency, and reliability of multimodal freight transportation; improved flexibility of States to support multi-State corridor planning and the creation of multi-State organizations to address multimodal freight connectivity; and also to reduce the adverse environmental impacts of freight movement on the Network. These goals are to be pursued in a manner that is not burdensome to State and local governments.
As required by the FAST Act, the next Plan will address the conditions and performance of the national multimodal freight network. It will also address requirements specified in MAP-21 for the draft Plan, as well as the additional requirements established by the FAST Act. These include the identification of corridors providing access to major areas for manufacturing, agriculture, or natural resources and an identification of best practices for improving the performance of the National Multimodal Freight Network, including critical commerce corridors and rural and urban access to critical freight corridors.