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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

A Guidebook for Engaging the Private Sector in Freight Transportation Planning

3. Why Should the Private Sector Be Involved?

Publication #: FHWA-HEP-09-015 | JANUARY 2009

Prepared for the
U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration

Prepared by
Wilbur Smith Associates
and S.R. Kale Consulting LLC

3. Why Should the Private Sector Be Involved?

Question. Why should public transportation agencies try to engage the private sector in freight planning activities?

Answer. Public agencies can better understand goods movement needs in their area if they obtain input from private sector representatives moving freight on the transportation system. Better understanding of goods movement needs enables agencies to develop transportation plans and improvement programs that address the needs of their customers.

This section of the guidebook, and the two immediately following, address the why, who, and how of engaging the private sector. These sections are based on the three major components of the FHWA workshop on "Engaging the Private Sector in Freight Planning." Part D in Appendix 4 of this guidebook provides more information about the workshop.

The "why" section, addresses the reasons public planning agencies should engage the private sector in freight planning. Reasons "why" include a discussion of engaging the private sector as a means for public involvement, federal planning requirements regarding public involvement, and challenges and issues relating to considerations about why the private sector should be involved.

Engaging the Private Sector and Public Involvement

Stated succinctly, engaging the private sector is equivalent to the public involvement process for the goods movement or freight element of transportation planning. Private sector involvement in the public planning process can:

The public and private sectors share interests in a number of transportation-related topics, including economic development, congestion and capacity, funding and financing, environmental issues, and security (Figure 2). Many state and regional transportation plans address the connection between economic development and transportation. Similarly, state and regional economic development plans and strategies typically reflect private sector issues and concerns, including the importance of people and goods movement to economic well being. Economic development agencies and chambers of commerce can be key allies in freight planning initiatives.

Figure 2: Additional Reasons for Engaging the Private Sector

Why engage the private sector freight interests in your planning process? A large arrow titled "Engaging the Private Sector" points to five bullet points; Links to economic development, congestion/capacity, financing and funding projects, environmental concerns, and security concerns.
Source: FHWA, Workshop on "Engaging the Private Sector in Freight Planning"

Congestion and capacity are some of the most significant issues facing freight transportation today. A number of national level task forces have been formed to review and analyze the issues, and various proposals have been advanced to identify potential solutions nationally and regionally. Private sector input on freight transportation bottlenecks or choke points can help public sector planners and decision-makers develop strategies and funding mechanisms to reduce congestion and improve capacity.

Question. What are some of the different ways that the public sector might seek to engage the private sector in freight planning?

Answer. See "Planning and Programming Activities in Which to Engage the Private Sector" and "Procedures for Obtaining Private Sector Input" in Section 5
of this guidebook.

Question. How should the public sector manage expectations about what can be delivered as a result of private sector participation on freight stakeholder groups?

Answer. Public sector managers and staff need to understand what their governing bodies are willing and able to deliver. This may be facilitated through participation by high level managers and governing body members in activities and initiatives of freight stakeholder groups. Further guidance on expectations is facilitated through legislation, administrative rules, or other governing body language that specifies the freight stakeholder group's role in state or regional transportation planning and improvement programming.

Question. Should a transportation agency wait until new federal transportation funding legislation is in place before deciding about whether and how to proceed in engaging the private sector
in freight planning?

Answer. Since both TEA-21 and SAFETEA-LU contained language in reference to obtaining input from freight shippers and providers of freight transportation services when developing transportation plans and improvement programs, it may be reasonable to assume that similar provisions will occur in future transportation funding legislation. Obtaining input from private sector stakeholders, regardless of provisions in future transportation funding legislation, is important to understanding freight transportation issues, concerns, needs, and contributions to
economic well-being.

Question. How should the public sector approach private sector representatives about their potential involvement in freight
transportation planning?

Answer. Written invitations from high level agency managers may be appropriate for meetings of advisory boards and committees established for formal initiatives such as transportation plans and freight stakeholder groups. Phone calls, e-mails, or letters from lower level managers or planning staff may suffice for less formal initiatives.

Public and private sector understanding of and input on environmental, security, and safety concerns can help inform freight transportation planning activities. Private sector representatives have advocated streamlining the environmental process to speed up project development and implementation, which in turn could contribute to quicker resolution of congestion, capacity, and other issues. Transportation planners are ramping up efforts to address security issues in plans and other documents. Private sector concerns about the cost and difficulty of implementing security requirements can help inform the development of plan language regarding this issue. Similarly, private sector concerns about safety issues, requirements, and solutions can help inform the public planning process.

The following are examples of other planning-related issues for which state and metropolitan transportation agencies may want to seek common ground with private sector stakeholders:

Developing strategies to reduce problems from hazardous material incidents
While most discussions with freight stakeholders start in the planning phase, freight mevement issues occur throughout the transportation development process: planning, design and construction, operation and maintenance, oversight and revenue collection. Public sector staff can obtain freight stakeholder input about all of these parts of the process. For instance, potential project design and construction issues include:

Operations and maintenance considerations include impacts of routine maintenance and weather-related conditions on freight movements and the implementation and operation of Intelligent Transportation System technologies to improve the efficiency of freight mobility. Private sector input also supports the development of informed policy and strategy related to cost allocation studies, enforcement of vehicle size and weight restrictions, evaluation of fees and procedures for obtaining permits, routing of over-dimensional vehicles, and safety.

Federal Regulations for Freight Stakeholder Public Involvement

Recognizing the importance of obtaining freight stakeholder input on goods movement in the national and regional transportation system, the U.S. Congress in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and in SAFETEA- LU developed language addressing public involvement by freight stakeholders in state and regional transportation planning and programming. Legislative direction and U.S. Code of Federal Regulations stipulate that states and metropolitan areas provide freight shippers and providers of freight transportation services with reasonable opportunities to comment on transportation plans and improvement programs (see Appendix 2 of this guidebook). The requirements, however, do not establish procedures for states and metropolitan areas to use in providing for input by freight shippers and providers. Section 5 of this guidebook identifies a number of ways in which the public sector can seek private sector input on transportation planning and programming.

Challenges and Issues

One of the biggest issues is being able to convince private sector stakeholders why they should be involved in freight planning activities. Demonstrating the value of a state or metropolitan transportation plan or improvement program can be a significant challenge, especially if the plan or program contains few provisions specifically addressing concerns of freight stakeholders. Communicating goals, objectives, and benefits of plans and programs to the private sector requires an effective public involvement program and considerable skill on the part of transportation agency personnel and their governing bodies.

Public agencies stand to gain a lot from private sector input, so they need to develop public involvement activities to communicate how agencies and their private sector customers gain from working together on freight planning activities. This could include explaining how freight stakeholders can provide input into the public planning and programming processes, along with how public sector decision-makers consider private sector input when making decisions about transportation funding and other initiatives that affect freight mobility. Such explanations should be delivered so as to assure private sector stakeholders that their input was valuable even when the final decision may not be consistent with private sector recommendations or expectations.

Updated: 4/4/2011
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