MAFC/ITTS/KYTC Joint Freight Conference Highlights

by Ernie Perry on April 2, 2013

In Mid-March, the Mid-America Freight Coalition, the Institute for Trade and Transportation Studies, and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet combined forces to co-host the MAFC/ITTS/KYC Joint Freight Annual Freight Meeting. The cast of attendees included 20 state departments of transportation along with their planning and development partners, federal and state agencies, and freight and industry representatives. The group met in Louisville at the historic Brown Hotel for three days to learn and talk about freight. Conference attendees came from all parts of North America—from Canada to Florida and from New York to California—and provided a broad-ranging and geographically diverse group to talk freight. From MAP-21 to the new energy economy, freight advisory committees to corridor development, and multi-state and agency planning—we covered a tremendous amount of ground. The tremendous success of this meeting was directly driven by the participation of the attendees.

Nearly 170 people attended the MAFC/ITTS/KYTC freight conference. Over the course of the meeting forty-three speakers discussed the history, the current trends, and future trajectory of freight, freight movement, and related economic development opportunities. We kicked off the conference with a USDOT workshop on freight planning and analysis techniques and we concluded the week with a special symposium on the beneficial use of dredged materials in transportation infrastructure projects. In between, we offered ten thematic plenary or breakout sessions, and had two incredible speakers at the state dinner and Wednesday’s lunch. We also toured the McAlpine Lock and Dam, the Big Four bridge project, the Port of Jeffersonville, JeffBoat, and the UPS World Port. It was a busy week with a lot to offer including some informal off-site activities that truly showed Kentucky’s own brand of southern hospitality.

Given the quality and breadth of the presentations and speakers, we have worked with the speakers to allow us to post their presentations for your continued access to this information. All of these presentations—as well as all of the other conference materials—are available on the conference page [link].

Rather than summarize all of the information from the presentations, I wanted to go over the highpoints that we saw emerging from the presentations and discussions in Louisville.

  1. The new energy economy fueled by domestic production, including the extraction, movement and use of these fuels is impacting every part of our freight systems. Gas extraction is revitalizing the economies in many of our states. However, efforts must be taken to protect and develop infrastructure as well as the natural environments during this build-out period. Production needs and movement of the fuel continues to ramp up demand for rail cars and service, trucks and drivers, and pipelines. These lower cost, cleaner burning fuels may also help us create efficiencies and clean the air in our freight systems. We are also seeing trucking, parcel delivery, rail, and Great Lakes shipping companies sampling and adopting alternate fuel strategies to lower their costs and decrease their impact on the environment. These changes are far-reaching; even tertiary industries such as fertilizer production and plastics are benefiting from the reduced cost of energy.
  2. MAP-21 is a start. It is important to participate in the implementation of MAP-21 and we need to position ourselves so that we have strong voice in the next authorization cycle. We also need to support the development of the freight data that we need to plan effectively, provide a timely response to industry and business, and that will support our freight performance initiatives.
  3. Freight development is a worthy economic development strategy. We do not need to be shy about the relationship between freight and economic development. Freight development focuses the lens of economic development and transportation integration so that business and industry have a clear trajectory and known risks.
  4. There is a continued need for champions and an increased awareness of the economic role of freight, especially for intermodal and multimodal systems. One of the challenges we heard about both this year and last year was how hard our states are working to introduce freight considerations in their department’s programs, both in the design and operations functions. The role of the champion is critical to continued focus on freight development.
  5. We have some very successful examples of bi-state and multiagency partnerships on freight development and freight projects in our MAFC region. What can we learn from these successes in our region in order to move development of a multistate freight corridor network to the next level? Take a look at Ohio’s Long Range Planning effort, Access Ohio 2040. Ohio DOT is visiting all of the neighboring states to include considerations outside of the official state boundaries. And in Minnesota, MnDOT is hosting a freight rail and economic development peer exchange with ten other states to exchange ideas on rail development and how to access its economic benefits.
  6. We have an expansive multimodal freight transportation system, yet there are some very critical connections that lack sufficient redundancy and interest from transportation professionals. Border crossings, critical industrial corridors, and major bridges all could keep us up at night worrying about the system and the economy should we have a failure. We will continue to focus on critical corridors and networks, but we will also need to consider those choke-points and bottlenecks that hamper system flow.
  7. We have come a long way in our individual and agency levels of freight sophistication in just a few years. MAFC states and their partners have been instrumental in the establishing freight planning practices, providing for stakeholder inclusion and use of freight advisory committees, integrating economic development, and supporting the development of the freight initiatives in MAP-21. If you look back to 2005 or so, there was little if any peer group to work with, and little if any assistance for building professional capacity. Freight was a relatively new area in transportation policy, programs, and operations. Our early MAFC meetings were smaller and focused on getting up to speed on freight and identifying state freight resources and information. And as our state representatives became freight professionals, the depth and breadth of the interaction and meetings for the states became more sophisticated as well. In the past years our meetings and degree of integration and connectedness has increased. Last year we expanded to include more private sector participation by co-hosting the meeting with the Minnesota Freight Advisory Committee. This year we partnered with the southeast region states to expand our network and learning. This level of sophistication and interaction reflected by MAFC states demonstrates a rapidly maturing professional community that is ready to assume their role in the national freight network and in supporting their state’s transportation and economic systems.

From my conversations with you, the 2013 MAFC/ITTS/KYTC Joint Annual Freight Meeting was a success. The conference broadened our freight perspectives and expanded our peer group, as well as provided for continuing education and professional development, networking, and the development of a community of practice that can provide critical support, ideas, and contacts. State-driven initiatives such as MAFC and ITTS have and will continue to support the development of freight professionals as well as provide a venue for the next steps of working across state borders to provide for the efficient movement of freight.

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