U.S. Releases National Freight Strategic Plan


Published Oct 19, 2015 8:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has released the nation’s first Draft National Freight Strategic Plan. The 143-page document identifies six key trends and challenges including expected growth in freight traffic; governance-related barriers to planning and implementing freight projects; safety and security problems related to the movement of freight; increased global economic competition; application and deployment of new technologies; and underinvestment in the nation’s freight system. The draft NFSP also outlines a number of strategies to address the three types of bottlenecks: infrastructure, institutional and financial.

Among its specific strategies, the draft plan emphasizes the importance of a dedicated freight program that would improve the movement of freight and meet economic demands. It also includes a draft Multimodal Freight Network map to inform planners, private sector stakeholders and the public about where major freight flows occur and where special attention to freight issues may be most warranted. 

Furthermore, the draft plan would have the U.S. DOT continue to support local, state and interagency collaboration, including close cooperation with port authorities, private sector stakeholders and agencies in Canada and Mexico; sharing best practices for freight planning; supporting advisory committees and public forums with stakeholders; and encouraging effective use of funding available at the national level.

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) has welcomed the report. “We’re extremely encouraged that Secretary Foxx is moving forward with the National Freight Strategic Plan,” said AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle. “Mapping the future of our freight network and providing resources to build it is a top priority for AAPA and its member ports.”

Now open for public comment, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Port of Seattle CEO Ted Fick joined Foxx in announcing the plan at an event in Seattle. Fick said:  “The health of our infrastructure is what drives our economy, jobs and our ability to export – locally, regionally and nationally. Last-mile connections to our facilities like an at-grade railroad crossing in Puget Sound are part of a national system that enables American exporters in the U.S. heartland to reach markets in Asia. This strategic plan will help us make targeted investments to improve freight performance.”

At the announcement event, Foxx called for a greater focus on the future of U.S. freight movement. AAPA recently launched a campaign to raise awareness and appreciation of goods movement in the United States, called “Freight: Keep It Moving” (Twitter: #freightkeepitmoving). As part of that campaign, AAPA convened a freight advocacy day “fly-in” in Washington on October 8 for U.S. port executives to urge federal policymakers to include freight priorities and funding as part of a long-term transportation reauthorization bill.  Earlier this year, AAPA outlined port industry needs in its 2015: The State of Freight report.

The most recent federal transportation bill – MAP-21, passed in 2012 – directed the U.S. DOT to develop a National Freight Strategic Plan laying out a course of action to meet National Freight Policy goals designed to improve the movement of freight in the U.S. The draft plan includes next steps in improving the condition and performance of the national freight network and increasing America’s global economic competitiveness as well as aims to reduce the impact of freight movement to communities.

The Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC) has also welcomed the report. “U.S. DOT’s holistic approach to addressing the needs of our nation’s multimodal freight system is commendable and the roadmap for improvement identified in the draft National Freight Strategic Plan complements the GROW America Act’s robust investment plan,” said CAGTC Executive Director Elaine Nessle. “Our freight network’s challenges are many and varied, and I applaud U.S. DOT for anticipating future freight system requirements so that our nation is prepared to meet the growing needs and turn potential gridlock into economic opportunity.”

Anticipating domestic freight movements across all modes will grow by roughly 42 percent by the year 2040, the draft NFSP calls for robust investment across all modes and suggests an emphasis on improving intermodal connectivity to reduce infrastructure bottlenecks. The draft NFSP calls for the identification of key trade gateways and corridors through a multimodal freight network; establishment of such a network is one of several common threads between the U.S. DOT’s  GROW America Act, the Senate-passed DRIVE Act, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s proposal, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015.

“The call to make freight infrastructure investments is a unifying message. The House of Representatives, Senate and Administration are all proposing creation of a robustly-funded multimodal freight program, the centerpiece of which is a competitive grant program,” said CAGTC President Leslie Blakey. “The draft NFSP adds context to this discussion, explaining where our nation’s economic opportunities exist. I commend U.S. DOT for organizing a comprehensive plan that guides strategic decision making, ensuring public investment will produce a high return.”

The report is available here.