Print PDF

Recommendations Address Barriers to Improved Freight Transportation

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The National Freight Advisory Committee has submitted to the Department of Transportation dozens of recommendations for consideration in the development of a National Freight Strategic Plan that will implement and advance the National Freight Policy and Goals established under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). These recommendations relate to the statutory, regulatory, technological, institutional, financial and other barriers to improved freight transportation performance, the performance of the national freight network and the mitigation of the impacts of freight movement on communities. The committee has also proposed submitting future recommendations regarding streamlining efforts for state and local planning compliance and reporting requirements, developing goals related to freight safety, and additional recommendations related to workforce development.

The report identifies a number of barriers to challenging the domestic freight industry. With respect to laws, there is no surface transportation legislation that is multimodal and fully addresses freight as well as passenger transport, nor is there an explicit national freight policy or plan. Regulatory barriers include different regulatory structures across modes, different regulatory authority across government entities, a fragmented regulatory environment, and regulatory barriers that may delay projects and increase costs or lead to productivity losses. Technologically, there is a lack of interoperability and standards across modes and diverse systems, high implementation costs for system-wide tech changes, and limited technology development/demonstration programs for freight systems. Looking at institutions, there is a mismatch of the federal modal structure with the intermodal nature of the freight system. Financial problems include the anticipated insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, limited funding for freight specific projects that are multimodal and cross jurisdictional boundaries, and aging and deteriorating infrastructure across most modes. There is also a lack of data for monitoring and analyzing the freight system, limited planning for future freight demand, and congestion and bottlenecks due to capacity and/or regulatory constraints.

Recommendations from the committee include the following.

- encourage safety practices beyond minimum compliance

- DOT should strive to achieve safety and security regulations in such a way as to minimize, where possible, the impact on an efficient supply chain

- employ a greater degree of risk-based management in the approach to security within freight transportation systems’ operations

- create a new dedicated fund for multi-modal freight projects

- promote consistent funding from the Inland Waterway Trust Fund and the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for locks & dams, dredging and other projects

- establish a “one-stop shop” Permitting & Compliance Division within DOT that is empowered to coordinate permitting reviews within DOT and across other federal agencies to be reportable and accessible via a web-based dashboard

- air quality and climate impacts should be considered up front in planning new transportation infrastructure

- allow for “spend ahead” provisions for projects that have environmental clearance but are awaiting funding authorizations prior to advancing to the next stage of project planning and delivery

- streamline the certification process for new products or practices that increase the safety of the freight system and the efficiency or sustainability of the freight system if an equal or greater level of safety results

- cross modal security programs, policies and regulations must be harmonized, including areas such as credentialing, to ensure consistency in the system and the seamless unimpeded movement of freight between modes

- the National Freight Policy should include a provision that specifically supports the maintenance and expansion of “open skies” agreements for the carriage of cargo that permit the liberal and flexible use of the world’s airways to serve the needs of customers around the globe while considering security and job impacts

- DOT should identify and quantify the reasons for delay occurring at each major U.S./Mexican border crossing

- DOT needs to address the inadequacy of multimodal freight flows (origin-destination), which are important inputs for the National Freight Strategic Plan and are not well understood

- strengthen data collection, including multimodal origin-destination freight flows, ports of entry performance, import bottlenecks and the repositioning of empty containers for exports, and evaluate the benefit of purchasing third party aggregator data to fill critical gaps

- DOT should support research on high priority national objectives of safety, efficiency and sustainability, including supply chain-based approaches for metropolitan and regional freight models and changes that could restructure current freight supply and demand patterns

- examine policies and regulations to take advantage of the emerging technology of connected vehicles as it affects freight movement

- revise federal policies to incentivize the efficient and effective use of available funding for freight projects

- address aging infrastructure, bridge weight limitations, excepted rail track, and generally poor road pavement conditions within heavy-haul corridors

- study the movement of empty import International Standards Organization containers to address the repositioning of empty containers, including those that return to their point of entry and those that are repositioned for export commodities

- encourage and support the creation of regional, statewide, and/or multi-state institutions with a single mission, the specialized staffing expertise to handle freight projects, and the authority to oversee, finance and implement key initiatives that could be beneficial to the expedient delivery of freight transportation projects

- identify and invest in ports of national significance to meet national trade objectives, including increased exports and creating a competitive trade environment

- expand the capacity of the freight system by encouraging the effective utilization of all modal and operational opportunities; e.g., off-peak cargo movements

- increase efficiencies along the supply chain by promoting electronic communications among all logistics supply chain business segments

- update border crossing inspection technology with proven, state-of-the-art technology that will speed throughput at heavily congested locations

- establish detailed and efficient border inspection procedures that use best technology, develop better border staffing that is more responsive to freight traffic flows and increase U.S. Customs and Border Protection staffing at border crossings, airports and marine ports to support the burgeoning requirements of cargo screening

- support the development of definite freight delivery networks to expand delivery options across all modes and clearly designate truck routes to optimize safety and system performance and reduce community and environmental impacts

To get news like this in your inbox daily, subscribe to the Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report.

Customs & International Headlines