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Engaging the Private Sector in Freight Planning

"Involving the freight industry has been difficult since the removal of economic regulations in the 1970s. The freight industry focus is so much shorter term than the governmental processes. This leads to misfits in how the private sector and governmental sector can work together. The FHWA course provides tools that can be used by State DOTs, MPOs, and others engaging the freight sector in transportation planning."

- John Coil, Transportation and Programming Data Manager, Denver Regional Council of Governments

The volumes of freight movement we are currently experiencing on our transportation system, and that we foresee 20 years into the future, clearly indicate that information on freight movement needs to be included in the scope of many transportation projects. Yet a lack of understanding by public sector planners of private sector business needs, and conversely by the private sector of the public sector transportation planning process hinders the effective integration of freight into many statewide and regional plans and transportation investment decisions. Developing and sustaining relationships, either formally or informally, with key private sector stakeholders is critical to effective freight planning.

To address this issue, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has designed a 1-day workshop for planners on tools, techniques, and methods for engaging the private sector—creating and strengthening relationships to address freight planning and make improved transportation decisions. The workshop was created to assist Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO), State Departments of Transportation (DOT), and local governments.

Jocelyn Jones, FHWA transportation planner, leads pilot workshop

Jocelyn Jones, FHWA Planning Technical Service Team, leads pilot session for workshop, Engaging the Private Sector in Freight Planning, in Denver, Colorado.

On April 14, 2005, Jocelyn Jones, an FHWA transportation planner, led a pilot session of the workshop, Engaging the Private Sector in Freight Planning, at the Regional Council of Governments in Denver, Colorado. Jones specializes in freight planning with the FHWA Resource Center's Planning Technical Service Team. Joining her as the co-instructor for the workshop was Mark Berndt of Wilbur Smith Associates.

The DOTs and MPOs in Colorado and the neighboring State, Wyoming, were invited to participate in the pilot workshop. Representatives were in attendance from the CDOT, Denver Regional Council of Governments, Pueblo Area Council of Governments, Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, the Cheyenne MPO, the North Front Range MPO, and planners from the Colorado and Wyoming FHWA Division offices.

The workshop is designed to enable participants to:

  • Understand the value freight stakeholders can add to the planning process.

  • Use tools and resources to identify freight stakeholders in their areas.

  • Learn techniques for engaging freight stakeholders in the planning process.

The workshop also frames this freight relationship as an element of the public involvement process already performed by DOTs and MPOs, and discusses a variety of techniques for identifying, communicating, and working with freight stakeholders. As an example of a type of informal engagement that the workshop promotes, attendance at a meeting of a private sector industry group, the Denver Roundtable of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) was offered to all participants.

Participants in the pilot session cited the following training lessons as valuable:

  • Examples of methods to approach freight stakeholders.

  • Identification of barriers—an understanding of what areas to be aware of in building relationships with stakeholders.

  • Ideas of how to work and collaborate with other public partners.

In Colorado, several action items also were identified by the group:

  • CDOT committed to take the lead on developing a common set of methods and techniques that the DOT and the CO MPOs could work on to engage the private sector.

  • Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments developed a set of steps to begin building a relationship with their Chamber of Commerce, which they view as a key partner.

  • All participants saw the value of finding an intermediary or partner to assist the public agencies in contacting and engaging the private sector (such as a Chamber).

  • All participants recognized and were excited by the potential opportunity to engage the private sector on "quick start" type projects, where the private sector will have the prospect to see some early win-wins. This will help keep the private sector involved for the long haul. "Quick Start" projects are improvements or projects that can be addressed in the short-term. Examples include repaving, signal retiming, and signage.

  • All participants saw the need and importance of "getting out of our offices"—the public sector must be willing to get out there, and go to the meetings of their stakeholders and private partners.

  • All participants saw freight planning, and the private sector role, in particular, in a new light, from a public involvement perspective, which will require extra and concerted efforts to acquire and maintain.

According to Tammy Goorman, the Information Branch Manager for CDOT, "The training was a great opportunity for the CDOT and our planning partners to coordinate future activities to involve the private sector in our long range planning process.  The training course assisted us in identifying common goals and how to develop strategies for the future."

The workshop is part of the Freight Professional Development program, a joint effort of the Office of Freight Management and Operations (HOFM), the Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty (HEP), and the FHWA Planning Technical Service Team. Tony Furst, Director of the HOFM, also added that "Understanding trends, patterns and demands are key to effective transportation planning; this workshop does a great job in providing practical options for accessing that information from the freight community ." Additional training opportunities can be found at the FHWA's Office of Freight Management and Operations website:  Freight Professional Development Program.

Participants should be familiar with general freight terminology, modes, and trends before taking this workshop. The National Highway Institute course, Integrating Freight in the Transportation Planning Process (No 139001), can provide the fundamentals needed to prepare for this workshop.

For more information about the training workshop, Engaging the Private Sector in Freight Planning, you may contact:

Jocelyn Jones
Freight/Intermodal Planning Specialist
FHWA Planning Technical Service Team
(410) 962-2486