Remove barriers to freight movement, panel recommends

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 7/22/2014

A national panel on freight movement and efficiency believes the best way to remove barriers among the major transportation modes is to establish new funding for multimodal projects. The Department of Transportation will consider this and other recommendations made by the National Freight Advisory Committee as it develops a national freight strategic plan in the coming months.

The 47-member National Freight Advisory Committee was created in current highway law and appointed in 2013 by then DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. It has brought together stakeholders representing highway, carrier, rail, port, airport, shipping and transit sectors.

OOIDA Senior Member Terry Button of Rushville, N.Y., represents OOIDA and small-business truckers on the committee.

For the most part, Button said, the committee members have met on common ground barring a few agenda-driven discussions such as minimum insurance requirements for motor carriers.

“They’ve done a good job,” Button said following a meeting on July 12 that coincided with the release of some 81 recommendations for the DOT’s national strategic plan.

“There’s always going to be a few people who will continue to focus on their agenda and not the team effort, but I’m so happy that this National Freight Advisory Committee has reached out to lots of different people – the rail, the airlines, the ports, the highways, and we’re all committed to fixing the infrastructure.”

Button, a farmer and owner-operator who hauls hay year-round, says most people on the committee get the significance of trucking to freight movement.

“The truck, in all modes, has to be the first and last mile,” he said.

“I’m glad that the rest of the people are good people that understand the issues and realize that they have problems in their mode or their segment but are willing to look at what my problem is, or what your problem is, and help shape it, because we need everybody. We need everybody as we move forward in the next 20, 30 years.”

The panel has recommended that Congress establish a multimodal fund, one that “supports and prioritizes” the first and last mile connectors among the major transportation modes.

“First and last mile segments of regional and national significance must be included in a comprehensive freight funding program to assure freight movement is seamless across jurisdictions, modes, ports and intermodal connectors,” the committee stated in its recommendation.

Button co-chaired a subcommittee on Research, Technology and Innovation. Among the recommendations that emerged from his subcommittee is one to partner states and freight system stakeholders with high schools, colleges and vocational schools to support training and apprenticeship programs in transportation. The recommendation is not specific to truck driver training, but it could open some doors.

Button has also kept his eye on happenings in the Safety and Security subcommittee.

One recommendation from that subcommittee would “strive to achieve safety and security regulations in such a way as to minimize, where possible, the impact on an efficient supply chain,” according to subcommittee language.

Truckers will be watching other Safety and Security recommendations closely, especially one that supports … “a more rapid adoption of safety technologies including those recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB),” because of possible ties to speed limiters, collision avoidance and electronic logging for trucks.

“You can throw all the gadgets you want at something, but you still need that driver,” Button said.

Button says he’s raised issues about driver training and safe truck parking with the subcommittees and full committee.

“We can’t have 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year freight policy when you only have part of the equation,” he said.

The U.S. DOT will draft its national strategic freight plan in the coming months and will eventually report it to Congress.

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