Freight highways and bridges don’t just spring up magically like toadstools after a rain. State and local governments have to plan for them, taking into consideration population trends, highway bottlenecks, types of commodities being transported, funding sources and more.
Toward that end the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) today released a report on best practices in freight planning at the state level.
ATRI asked for nominations of innovative plans from state Departments of Transportation and took the top 12 from which to fashion an “ideal” checklist of best practices.
Some of the “required elements” in a state plan are an inventory of freight bottlenecks and other mobility issues; highways that may be deteriorated by heavy vehicles carry mining, agricultural products, energy equipment, timber and other products; significant freight system needs; a list of priority projects; congestion delays and how to solve or mitigate them; critical multimodal corridors; and how funds would be made available and matched, and where they would be used.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t until 1998 that freight shippers were included in the stakeholders who were asked to comment on state and metropolitan freight plans. And it wasn’t until 2005 that any freight funding was included.
In 2015 Congress included the first dedicated freight funding program at the federal level in its highway authorization plan, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act. To be eligible for the funds, states were required to complete a freight plan.
Says the ATRI report, “freight plans are critical blueprints for how the public sector will develop, manage and maintain public elements of freight networks. … A well-designed freight plan allows a state or region to accurately speculate on future trends — aiding government’s ability to make sound decisions in public infrastructure.”
According to the U.S. DOT, the economy is projected to double in the next 30 years, largely driven by a population expected to increase to more than 65 million by 2040, the ATRI report said, adding that freight movements are consequently expected to increase by 42 percent.
So, long-range plans are needed to prepare a transportation system that meets the future needs of freight and passengers, the report said.