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Public Roads - July/August 2014

July/August 2014
Issue No:
Vol. 78 No. 1
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Shaping The Future of Freight

by Tiffany Julien and Nicholas Kehoe

Advisory committees are bringing public and private stakeholders to the table to boost the movement of goods. Just in time, because freight tonnage is expected to increase by 62 percent by 2040.

The freight transportation system, composed of various modes, is vital to the Nation’s economic health. Freight advisory committees are helping to support and strengthen that system.

Freight transportation is critical to the U.S. economy and is only becoming more so. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) projects that the transportation system will need to move an additional 14 billion tons of goods by the middle of this century. In his 2010 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama noted that the export of the Nation’s goods directly influences the country’s economy by creating and sustaining jobs for the people who manufacture those exported goods.

In fact, freight transportation has grown in tandem with the expanding U.S. population and economic activity, and with the interdependence of global economies. Meeting this increasing demand requires many moving parts to work together to deliver goods safely and efficiently.

One of the most significant challenges for transportation agencies is that although public sector agencies develop the plans and policies that influence the movement of goods, private sector individuals and businesses are the primary users of the system. As the end users, the private sector stakeholders are the ones who truly understand how issues with the transportation system affect profit, loss, and competiveness.

Further, the private sector encompasses many different users throughout the supply chain, from those who supply raw materials to manufacturers who in turn  provide finished products to retail stores, distribution warehouses, and end consumers. Raw materials and finished goods are transported by a variety of modes, including ships, trains, and trucks.

A lack of cooperation between stakeholders in the public and private sectors, however, has led to inefficiencies in the sharing of information. Development of comprehensive freight plans and policies by public agencies requires an understanding of how and where goods move throughout the supply chain. But the private sector often prefers to keep this information proprietary for competitiveness purposes. Because of this knowledge gap, public agencies may miss opportunities to plan for and develop transportation infrastructure that best meets the needs of the freight transportation system.

When outlining a proposal to establish a national freight policy in 2013, then Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood noted that the U.S. freight network “is the lifeblood of the American economy. We must ensure that our freight system is stronger and better connected.” The national freight policy and goals were established under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and will be implemented in the development of a national freight strategic plan.

MAP-21 raised the profile of freight in the national dialog on transportation. The legislation includes a number of provisions to improve the condition and performance of the network and supports investment in freight-related surface transportation projects. For example, Section 1116, “Prioritization of projects to improve freight movement,” enables the Secretary to approve an increase in the Federal share payable for projects that meet the requirements outlined in that section. This increase in Federal share provides greater flexibility for States when programming and prioritizing projects.

To improve the efficiency of the movement of goods, the public sector is developing and implementing freight advisory committees as a mechanism that can assist in capturing and understanding input from private sector stakeholders. Based on requirements in MAP-21 to address the challenge of enhancing collaboration between the public and private sectors, USDOT established the National Freight Advisory Committee (NFAC). Further, MAP-21 is encouraging the formation of State freight advisory committees. Together, these efforts are connecting the numerous and dispersed stakeholders in the freight network.

Goals of the National Freight Policy

The national freight policy aims to improve the condition and performance of the national freight network to provide the foundation for the United States to compete in the global economy and achieve goals related to economic competitiveness and efficiency. The policy also will address congestion; productivity; safety, security, and resilience of freight movement; infrastructure condition; use of advanced technology; performance, innovation, competition, and accountability in the operation and maintenance of the network; and environmental impacts.

Source: MAP-21 [§1115; 23 U.S. Code 167]

Collaboration at The National Level

USDOT established the NFAC with a mission to provide information, advice, and recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation on how USDOT can improve its policies and programs for freight transportation. As individual States, regional planning organizations, and local agencies across the country continue to develop freight plans and policies, they need to do so with an understanding of how these plans and policies fit together. The Transportation Secretary has tasked the NFAC with ensuring that the national freight plan is comprehensive and addresses both current and future needs.

National Freight Advisory Committee Membership

A&S Services Group Montana Department of Transportation
Arkema Inc. New York City Department of Transportation
Association of American Railroads Nucor Steel Berkeley
Cargill, Inc. OneRail
Cargo Airline Association Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association
City of Indianapolis Parents Against Tired Truckers
City of Memphis Patriot Rail
City of Philadelphia Port Authority of New York & New Jersey
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport Port of Houston Authority
Colorado State Patrol Port of Hueneme, California
Contra Costa Transportation Authority Port of Monroe, Michigan
Con-Way Public Citizen
Douglas County, Nebraska Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Environmental Law & Policy Center SMART - Transportation Division
Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board State of California
Fulton County, Georgia Teamsters Rail Conference
Illinois Department of Transportation The Cianbro Companies
Ingram Barge Company The Home Depot
International Brotherhood of Teamsters The Rios Group
Lambert–St. Louis International Airport The University of Texas at Austin
Majestic Realty Co. True Value Company
Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, AFL-CIO University of Southern California
Sol Price School of Public Policy
Miami-Dade County UPS Freight

When formally established on May 30, 2013, the NFAC consisted of 47 members from leadership positions at both public and private organizations. The diverse makeup of the committee provides both breadth and depth of knowledge to the mission of addressing the Nation’s freight policy and programs.

Per the NFAC bylaws, the committee meets at least three times per year. Since its establishment, the committee has convened six meetings. The goal of the first meeting in June 2013 was to provide an overview of MAP-21 freight provisions and an update of USDOT’s progress in implementing them. During this meeting, the NFAC also began to develop a prioritized list of activities for USDOT to consider when implementing MAP-21.

The second meeting in November 2013 focused on breakout sessions for the subcommittees, as well as a report on the activities of each subcommittee. During this meeting, the subcommittees discussed a draft document charting the Nation’s primary freight network, which identifies a series of highways critical to freight transportation in the United States, and decided to proceed with developing comments to submit to USDOT.

At this meeting of the California Freight Advisory Committee in July 2013 in Long Beach, CA, members discussed freight issues in small breakout groups.

The NFAC conducted its third meeting in February 2014 to discuss and prepare a joint comment on USDOT’s designation of the primary freight network. Subsequent meetings in March, April, and May 2014 were convened to develop recommendations for the USDOT to consider in its creation of a national freight strategic plan.

For more information on these meetings and more details on the NFAC, visit

Similar to NFAC, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competitiveness serves as a liaison between industry and the Federal government on freight-related matters. This committee is concerned with the freight transportation network because U.S. supply chains are critically dependent on its quality and capacity.

Established in November 2011 and rechartered for another 2-year term in 2013, the Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competitiveness advises the Secretary of Commerce on the necessary elements of a comprehensive policy approach to improve the supply chain, encourage innovation, and support U.S. growth in exports.

Committee members are leaders in their fields of expertise and represent supply chain firms, associations, stakeholders, community organizations, and experts from academia. In addition, the Secretary of Transportation and the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency serve as ex officio, nonvoting members.

For more information on the Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competitiveness, visit

Collaboration at the Local, State, and Regional Levels

Section 1117 of MAP-21 encourages each State to establish its own freight advisory committee, consisting of a representative cross section of freight stakeholders from the public and private sectors. Each State committee is an important mechanism for collecting input that can assist in overcoming challenges specific to that State and help improve its freight planning process. Ultimately, the committee ensures that freight considerations are incorporated into the development of projects and programs.

Prior to and immediately following the passage of MAP-21, many States as well as local and regional planning organizations established advisory committees. These committees address issues such as freight financing; the condition, capacity, and reliability of the freight transportation system; and challenges and barriers to the efficient movement of goods that might threaten a State’s economic growth and competitiveness.

What follows are highlights of activities underway with some State and regional freight advisory committees.

Oregon Advisory Committee

Predating MAP-21 by several years, the Oregon Freight Advisory Committee came into being when the Oregon State Legislature passed House Bill 3364 in 2001. The legislation authorized the committee to advise the director of the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Oregon Transportation Commission on issues, policies, and programs that affect multimodal freight mobility in the State. Specifically, the legislation charges the committee to serve as a forum to promote information sharing between public and private sectors, champion a multimodal network for the delivery of goods, and provide reports to the legislature on policy recommendations dealing with freight transportation.

Since its establishment, the Oregon Freight Advisory Committee has served as an open forum for discussion and submitted a number of reports, including an annual report to the Oregon Transportation Commission detailing the committee’s activities. In addition, the 32-member committee has developed specialized reports on high-priority freight mobility projects, identified projects for the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, and played a key role in the development of the Oregon Freight Plan, which was adopted in 2011.

For more information on the Oregon Freight Advisory Committee, visit

Maryland Advisory Committee

Maryland’s Freight Stakeholder Advisory Committee convened in 2006, also predating MAP-21, to provide input into the Maryland State-wide Freight Plan. The scope of the 11-member group’s activities has since broadened, and the committee is now a forum for identifying and discussing issues affecting freight mobility within the State and for generating ideas to address those issues.

In addition, the advisory committee makes recommendations to help the Maryland Department of Transportation implement the freight requirements of MAP-21. For example, by engaging private sector members on issues like freight performance measures and the primary freight network, as well as by leveraging the committee’s participation in scenario planning exercises, the department will be able to better target and respond to industry concerns. Also, the committee will likely provide input into the development of other plans, such as the Maryland/Delaware Eastern Shore Strategic Rail Plan, the Maryland Freight System Performance Annual Report, and the joint Maryland State Highway Administration and Maryland Transportation Authority’s Freight Implementation Plan.

For more information on freight planning in Maryland, visit

Texas Advisory Committee

Other committees, such as those in Texas and California, were established in response to MAP-21. They already have made strides in advancing freight transportation in their respective States.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) established its Freight Advisory Committee in February 2013 as a forum for discussion of how TxDOT decisions might affect freight mobility.

Caroline Mays, TxDOT’s freight planning coordinator, believes that “addressing freight transportation issues depends on the public sector’s ability to develop ongoing and sustained partnerships with private sector stakeholders that promote the importance of freight to the Nation, State, and regional economic well-being and global competitiveness.”

To this end, the Texas Freight Advisory Committee has been instrumental in the development of the Texas Freight Mobility Plan, which is scheduled to be finished by the end of 2014. In addition, to highlight the various stakeholders across the State, the committee has scheduled each of its meetings at a different location in Texas. Each meeting also has focused on a specific topic, such as Texas’ global trade and border crossings. The meetings often include tours of freight-focused locations, such as the border crossing at the Laredo World Trade Bridge, the El Paso border, and an automobile manufacturing plant in San Antonio. The Freight Advisory Committee meetings have been well attended, with an average of 19 out of the 24 committee members and 40 general attendees.

For more information on the Texas Freight Advisory Committee, visit

California Advisory Committee

Also in 2013, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) collaborated with the California State Transportation Agency to establish the California Freight Advisory Committee. The committee, which has 61 members, assists in developing the State’s freight mobility plan and advises State officials on freight-related issues, projects, and funding needs.

To date, the advisory committee has reviewed and provided comments on the State’s official response to USDOT regarding the proposed primary freight network. The committee has put special emphasis on making recommendations that address the effects of the freight transportation system on improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The advisory committee also continues to work with Caltrans to update the State’s freight plan.

For more information on the California Freight Advisory Committee, visit

Atlanta Regional Task Force

Regional and local freight advisory committees in Atlanta, GA; the Delaware Valley; Seattle, WA; and the Washington, DC, metropolitan area also are working within their jurisdictions to bring freight stakeholders together. Many even existed prior to MAP-21.

Members of the California Freight Advisory Committee tour the Port of Stockton after an August 2013 meeting.

The Atlanta Regional Commission’s Freight Advisory Task Force, established in 2003, serves as a dedicated forum for freight-related discussions in the region. The task force, with 15 members, provides input into the region’s transportation planning process, identifies freight mobility needs, and monitors freight-friendly land uses. It also highlights the significance of freight in the region, works to improve safety, and assists in prioritizing freight transportation needs and investments.

The Atlanta task force was one of the critical components for incorporating private sector perspective and input into the needs assessment for the Atlanta Regional Freight Mobility Plan. Among the recommendations, the plan suggests improvements to the condition and capacity of the road and rail systems, proposes ways to operate the road and railways more efficiently, and addresses how private sector stakeholders can collaborate with government agencies to improve goods movement in the region.

For more information on the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Freight Advisory Task Force, visit

Delaware Valley Task Force

The Delaware Valley Goods Movement Task Force, established in 1993, works to ensure participation of the freight industry in the planning process and to identify improvements to the safety and mobility of goods movements in nine counties in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Other goals include implementing regional congestion and intermodal management programs, improving communication, and enhancing data and technology sharing.

Planners from Chester County, PA, and members of the Delaware Valley Goods Movement Task Force are shown here on a site visit to a local trucking company where they learned about freight operations and facilities within their county.

One of the task force’s most noteworthy accomplishments is more than two decades of active support from many different stakeholders, both public and private. The task force’s quarterly meetings routinely draw more than 60 stakeholders. In addition to holding quarterly meetings, the task force maintains a list of action items proposed by its members and by staff of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. These items, voted on by the 60 active members of the task force, generally include capital programming and technical studies. In addition, the action items are a mechanism that the planning commission uses to invite and integrate the public into the freight planning process. For example, the task force provided comments, shared information, and worked collaboratively with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to promote safe and informed driving habits in support of a multiphase infrastructure initiative to improve and rebuild I–95 in Pennsylvania.

Project Spotlight: PhillyFreightFinder

Although a major role of advisory committees is to provide freight-related input to transportation practitioners and elected officials, committees sometimes have the opportunity to develop standalone projects as well. An example is the Delaware Valley Goods Movement Task Force’s PhillyFreightFinder tool.

Developed through the task force’s Data Subcommittee, this publically available Web site is an interactive data platform that enables users to locate and obtain information about major freight facilities in the region. The site also helps users to better understand freight priorities. The subcommittee compiled the site’s data from planning studies by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and from data contributed by public and private sector partners.

For more information, visit


For more information on the Delaware Valley Goods Movement Task Force, visit

Seattle Advisory Board

The city of Seattle established its Freight Mobility Advisory Committee in 2002--and it evolved into the Seattle Freight Advisory Board in 2011--in an effort to establish a more formal advisory body. The board, which has 12 members, offers guidance to the mayor, city council, and all city offices on issues related to the movement of goods in the region and how actions by the city might affect that movement. The committee also coordinates and participates with the region’s freight advisory committee.

Since its establishment, the board has provided comments on the first comprehensive Seattle Freight Master Plan, on the update to the Seattle Bicycle Master Plan, and on the Washington State Rail Plan. In addition to input into these high-level planning documents, the board routinely becomes involved on major transportation-related projects in the city. For example, it is not uncommon for staff from the Seattle Department of Transportation to attend advisory board meetings to present updates on major capital or planning projects in order to obtain feedback on freight-related questions or concerns.

For more information on the Seattle Freight Advisory Board, visit

National Capital Region Subcommittee

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board initiated a Freight Subcommittee in 2008, both to raise awareness of freight transportation in the greater Washington, DC, area and to integrate freight transportation into the region’s transportation planning process.

The 25 members of the Freight Subcommittee are working to bring attention to specific transportation areas and identify important freight transportation projects by maintaining a list of “highlighted” projects. The Transportation Planning Board presented its first “top 10” list of freight transportation projects in March 2011.

A major accomplishment of the Freight Subcommittee is ensuring continued collaboration among various stakeholders in the region. Further, the subcommittee informs the public about freight transportation through a monthly newsletter, Freight Focus. In April 2011 the planning board held its first regional freight forum with 80 attendees from across the area.

For more information on the activities of the National Capital Regional Transportation Planning Board, visit

Membership and Meetings

Many public and private stakeholder groups participate in the freight advisory committees across the country. For example, typical members include State and local departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, ports, shippers, railroads, trucking companies, airports, and other freight-related organizations.

Advisory committees vary not only by the types of members, but also by the number of members. For example, the Seattle Freight Advisory Board has 12 members, while the California Freight Advisory Committee has 61 members. Most committees are invitation only and often start with a freight champion, such as a State department of transportation or a metropolitan planning organization, identifying key businesses and organizations in the area.

As demonstrated by the examples above, advisory committees generally have recurring quarterly meetings, but also have the ability to convene subcommittee meetings as required. Some of the committees also meet more frequently. For example, the Seattle Freight Advisory Board meets monthly, while the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board meets bimonthly. In addition, advisory committee meetings generally are open to the public, offering the opportunity for citizens to provide input.

Public Involvement for Goods Movement

Freight advisory committees are a targeted form of public engagement. These committees aim to identify the stakeholders with the greatest knowledge of the freight system and provide advice on the most critical freight needs in the region and State. This private sector involvement is crucial for successful freight planning. According to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) A Guidebook for Engaging the Private Sector in Freight Transportation Planning (FHWA-HEP-09-015), engaging the private sector is “equivalent to the public involvement process for the goods movement or freight element of transportation planning.”

Information flows in both directions within the advisory committees, which is why these groups are effective in addressing needs and concerns related to freight transportation. Not only do the public sector planners gain critical perspectives from leaders in the private sector, but the private sector also has the opportunity to learn more about how the planning process works.

These stakeholders, representing a broad range of organizations, are gathered at the first Regional Freight Forum organized and facilitated by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board.

“Perdue AgriBusiness benefits from participating on the Maryland Freight Advisory Committee by gaining a better understanding of freight trends and how they may impact [our] business,” says Sharon Clark, a member of the Maryland advisory committee and senior vice president of transportation and regulatory affairs at Perdue AgriBusiness. The meetings also provide an opportunity for “learning about resources available to support our freight network,” she says, “such as economic development efforts, and hearing what other public and private stakeholders are doing to address their freight concerns, so we can adopt best practices for our business.”

Accomplishing the Mission

The reliable and timely movement of goods is critical to the economic health of the United States. Many stakeholders affect the movement of goods, and of these stakeholders, many are in the private sector. However, public sector stakeholders make a number of the decisions regarding transportation planning and infrastructure. Without the perspective provided by the private sector, decisionmakers in the public sector are unable to obtain a complete understanding of the issues and concerns regarding freight transportation.

Freight advisory committees help to capture input from the various stakeholders and contribute to a more comprehensive planning process. With advisory committees, one size does not fit all. But no matter the size or structure, it takes effort to sustain them over time.

Sustaining stakeholder involvement is a continuous process and the following insights shared by active committees can help ensure ongoing success. The value that private sector participants provide to the committee should be communicated early on so they continue to be involved in the planning process. Be upfront with participating stakeholders, and openly express thanks for their continued involvement. In addition, hold as many meetings as necessary to complete the work rather than trying to accomplish everything in one meeting. Also, allow time for educational opportunities and develop outreach and networking opportunities to keep stakeholders looking forward to the next event. Most important, always keep focused on the outcomes and be wary of overpromising results.

Some of these committees have been in place for more than a decade, while others  launched more recently. No matter how long they have existed, the committees’ missions tend to be similar: to ensure that freight transportation needs are addressed in the transportation planning, programming, investment, and implementation processes.

Tiffany Julien is a transportation specialist with FHWA’s Office of Freight Management and Operations. She leads the freight planning efforts working with States and metropolitan planning organizations. Julien is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in urban and regional planning.

Nicholas Kehoe is a transportation engineer with Leidos in Reston, VA. He currently supports the FHWA Office of Freight Management and Operations by analyzing freight data to assist in policy development and producing communications and educational materials for freight professionals. He has an M.S. in civil engineering from Virginia Tech.

For more information, contact Tiffany Julien at 202–366–9241 or, or Nicholas Kehoe at 703–318–4539 or