MAP-21 also recognizes the importance of freight planning. Both national level and state level freight plans are listed in MAP-21 with the state freight plan recommended and the national plan discussed as a culmination of the range of issues, approaches, and strategies lifted from state plans. State freight plan guidance has been provided by FHWA and comments from states have suggested policy improvements that could enhance implementation. At this point, state freight plans are a recommended tool to outline the immediate and long-range plans for freight investments. In a broad sense, state freight plans contain the expected array of traffic and economic analyses. Importantly, in terms of stakeholder input, states are encouraged to create a state freight advisory committee to support the fight planning process and provide user-based input for the agencies.
Also related to the development of state freight plans is the ability to prioritize freight projects included in freight plans for increased federal share. In MAP-21, for interstate projects listed in state freight plan, the federal share can increase to 95 percent. For other projects listed in the freight plan the federal share can increase to 90 percent with only 10 percent matching state funds.
Importantly, there are a variety of ways freight planning can be integrated into DOTs. With a freight plan recommended, and rail and general long-range plans already under program guidance, and little mention of marine freight plans and air freight, the freight planning and program landscape is multifaceted. And with interpretation of MAP-21 still underway, it appears that states can blend and incorporate these various freight planning efforts as they see fit for their organization. For example, the freight plan can be completed and considered as part of the overall long-range plan. Or the overall freight plan could be assembled from various pieces found in rail and long-range plans to create a stand-alone freight plan. Most important for implementation, the freight plan should provide the road map to support freight and economic development, it should help to institutionalize freight in the organization, and the plan should identify the future trajectory for the freight systems and state’s industry and business.
Currency of state freight plans is also an issue. With many MAFC states ramping up their freight plans from as early as 1995 and others completing planning more recently but before the current guidance, practitioners will need to coordinate with FHWA for federal acceptance of these pre-MAP-21 freight planning efforts. The ideal-type freight plan is still being conceived and institutionalized across the states and at the federal level. In fact, current guidance implies that state freight planning successes will be adopted as components of the national strategic freight plans to reflect the freight issues nationwide. A state-driven national plan is necessary as in many cases, states have accelerated past MAP-21 policy initiatives. With this policy and implementation gap, the effectiveness and functionality of the state efforts should be adopted as best practice rather than attempting to re-aligning effective state practices with federal regulatory practices.
As shown in Table 1, all 10 MAASTO states have some version of a freight plan or a long-range plan that addresses freight. At the national level, AASHTO counts 26 freight plans, studies or elements of transportation plans. And while the MAFC region states are leaders in adoption of freight planning, there are still many unresolved issues planning processes and timelines, as well as suitability of specific freight planning components that are generalized across all states. Currently, freight plans are encouraged in MAP-21 and not required. MAP-21 cites program benefits of increase federal share on freight projects, but overall no additional funding is provided with completion of a state freight plan.
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With cost estimates of a statewide freight plan at close to $1 million and with close to two years of work invoked according to AASHTO’s comment letter on state freight plans and freight advisory committees, existing state-adopted freight plans should be used wherever possible. Further, AASHTO recommends that no additional topic areas be included in the requirements for the plan at this time.
And while multi-state freight projects and collaboration are indicated in the guidance, there is no guidance for regional and multi-state freight plans. As such the 10 state MAFC regional freight plan will provide several additional benefits to the states. In addition to the increased awareness of the importance of freight in the region, the plan can assist states in identifying the most pressing multi-state corridor projects; it positions the MAFC states to collaborate on freight initiatives and provides cross- state and regional information to inform a state and local freight planning processes.