The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Oct. 19 released a draft National Freight Strategic Plan (NFSP) as “an essential step for continuing to support the nation’s economy through the efficient movement of goods, while recognizing and responding to future infrastructure challenges.”

“Our freight infrastructure should be as good as our workers are, as our businesses are.  But it’s not.  It’s crumbling.  And, we’re making matters worse by continuing to underinvest,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.  “It’s time for this generation to shoulder the burden, face our transportation challenges, and keep improving our Nation’s freight network.”

The NFSP focuses on six major trends affecting freight transportation and the challenges they present, including:

  • Expected doubling in the size of the U.S. economy over the next 30 years, with freight movements across all modes estimated to grow by 42 percent by 2040;
  • Acknowledgment of chronic underinvestment in nationwide freight systems, coupled with a growing recognition that the workforce needed to build, maintain, and operate the systems will be insufficient unless further investment is made in education, recruitment, and training;
  • Historic decentralized infrastructure planning and implementation by state and local governments, which has created challenges for developing a national freight plan;
  • Continued need to address safety, security, and resilience of freight systems;
  • Increased global competition; and
  • Application and deployment of new technologies.

Foxx noted the plan “proposes new ways to encourage states and local governments to invest in and plan freight projects, and ways to accelerate technologies that can change the game for both safety and efficiency.”  He also said the plan would make upgraded infrastructure and a modernized freight network a true national priority.

The 2012 MAP-21 surface transportation law created a National Freight policy to help improve the condition and performance of goods movement, and tasked the U.S. transportation secretary with playing a key role in its development.

This year, the Senate-passed DRIVE Act and the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee-proposed surface transportation reauthorization bill both include provisions that would for the first time explicitly direct federal funds to freight improvement projects.

ARTBA first articulated the need for a national program—what it called “Critical Commerce Corridors” (3C)—back in November 2007 when it released a comprehensive report with its legislative recommendations for the scheduled reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU.  3C called for new freight-related user fees to help finance design and construction of additional highway capacity, intermodal, inland waterway and seaport connectors, and upgraded border and gateway facilities.  It also outlined the importance of establishing a national, strategic business plan to identify projects on a regional basis, set completion priorities, and establish cost estimates.

Go to the U.S. DOT’s freight plan homepage to find links to the NFSP draft, national and state-level freight network maps, plus other information and opportunities to submit comments. ARTBA will monitor the progress of the proposal and file comments and take other action as appropriate.