September 2020 | Commentary | Checking In

A Plan for Freight Excellence

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Keith Biondo is the publisher of Inbound Logistics magazine.

The U.S. Department of Transportation took many by surprise recently when it introduced the first-ever National Freight Strategic Plan (NFSP), designed to upgrade the American freight system and maintain the country's competitive edge.

Anyone who has been around our industry as long as I have has seen federal initiatives that address transportation inequities without moving the needle much. The most recent was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009's "shovel ready" initiatives to create jobs by funding large-scale transport infrastructure projects.

The NFSP is different because it focuses squarely on freight. Perhaps given the newfound respect carriers and drivers gained as a result of the pandemic, the plan targets shippers' reliance on over-the-road moves. Another difference is its brevity.

Here are the plan's four key federal goals:

1. Modernize or eliminate unnecessary or duplicative regulations that inhibit supply chain efficiency, reduce incentives to innovation, delay project delivery, or raise costs to shippers and consumers, while protecting safety and environmental outcomes.

2. Improve cross-sector, multijurisdictional, and multimodal collaboration to enhance intermodal connectivity and first- and last-mile connections, streamline interstate policies and regulations, and support multistate investment.

3. Provide targeted federal resources and financial assistance to support freight projects that provide significant benefits to the national economy.

4. Invest in freight data, analytical tools, and research to enhance the abilities of state, regional, and local agencies to evaluate and address freight issues.

Considering the bent of the current administration, it's no accident that regulation reform (read cuts) is the first goal. But there is more. The NFSP states support for the discovery and adoption of new automation and connectivity technologies. It also incorporates investing in freight research, improving freight data, analytical tools, and V2X technologies (vehicles to everything). The emphasis is on leading-edge technology more than shovels.

A core component is to develop a method to share the benefits of these initiatives with state and local governments—and importantly, with the private sector—with the idea of creating cohesive, nationwide transportation improvements.

Top-line goals? Global competitiveness, job creation, and economic efficiency by bringing the best ideas of all stakeholders—public and private—into the mix. Will it happen? It might, but an inflection point is coming in the near future.

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