Challenges to Efficient Goods Movement
The region’s economic health is directly related to the efficiency of the regional freight transportation network. An accessible freight network promotes economic opportunity by reducing transportation costs of production and lowering consumer prices. The ability to move goods and improve access to new markets is crucial to industry retention and economic development in the Tampa Bay region.
For the private sector, the primary goal of goods movement is efficiency. There are many challenges to moving freight quickly and at a low cost; many of these require the attention of public officials at the state and local levels.
Highways, railroads, airports, and seaports are the circulatory system of freight transportation. The efficiency of freight movement depends on the condition of this system. Failing infrastructure is costly and unsafe. Fortunately, a priority has been placed on infrastructure maintenance so the physical condition of transportation assets is generally good in Florida. Nonetheless, continued attention to maintenance and preservation of our systems is vital to ease freight movement.
For several decades the growth in population and employment in Florida has far exceeded the addition of transportation capacity. This has particularly been true in the Tampa Bay region. Moreover, as development along major facilities has increased, it has become more difficult to expand the capacity of existing facilities. As transportation demand increases, capacity issues will grow more severe without policies or infrastructure improvements to address them. Some of these needs are being addressed with the Florida DOT’s Future Corridors Program, which includes conceptual planning of several major new intercity corridors and the consideration of managed lane projects, including special purpose truck lanes. Operational improvements to maximize capacity of existing facilities has also received a great deal of attention.
Freight transportation infrastructure is accompanied by regulations that govern its use. In transporting freight there are costs that are not reflected in the price of service.
Market conditions are forces that heavily influence the efficiency of freight transportation and in many cases the industry has little ability to affect these conditions. Factors such as general economic growth, labor costs, and fuel and materials all affect the ability of the freight industry to operate efficiently.
Residential communities may express concern about noise, diesel emissions, and vibration caused by freight activity. Private property owners may fear that the construction or expansion of a freight use, such as a rail yard, truck terminal, distribution center, or warehouse will lead to traffic and cause property value to decline.
While local communities may recognize the importance of these facilities, and feel that they contribute to the economy in a positive manner, they would prefer that the facility be located somewhere else. This phenomenon is known as “Not in My Back Yard” or “NIMBY-ism.” It is for this reason the Strategic Freight Plan has carefully considered tradeoffs between freight mobility and community concerns.
Conflicting Public and Private Goals
While government’s responsibility is to protect the public health, safety and welfare, agencies need to recognize the value of freight mobility to economic prosperity—a key element of public welfare. In support of this, government needs to include freight mobility as an important consideration in the prioritization of project investments. Government also has the ability to regulate the movement of freight. Restrictions on freight movement can impact the ease with which freight can move. These can take the form of weight restrictions, size restrictions, or time of day delivery restrictions. In transporting freight these types of restrictions can add to the cost of moving goods.
Local and Regional Focus of Transportation Planning
The Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration are largely responsible for oversight of the federal-aid programs. As a result, there is not a clear national freight policy.
Freight Does Not Vote
Freight interests need to be involved in both planning and political processes at all levels of government. At the national level, organizations such as the American Trucking Association, the Association of American Railroads, and others actively advocate for freight interests in national legislation. At the state and local levels, freight also needs to have a voice in local planning efforts and in ultimate political decision-making.