When it comes to moving freight – whether by road, rail, or other modes of transport – national and state-level freight planning is vital for a strong and resilient economy. There are many excellent resources and methodologies published to help guide policy makers with this high-level planning; however, when freight carriers exit the federally funded freight infrastructure, they enter the local communities where we live and work, and there are few published resources available to support regional planners in their challenge to balance the interests of freight movement and these communities. Jason Hursh, a Project Manager with the Larson Design Group (LDG) Highway Design team, had a vision to change that.
Jason’s concept was to meet this regional planning need with a one-stop resource: a document that gathered best practices, first-hand experiences, challenges and solutions in one place. He drafted a white paper summary in 2019, and soon after, partnered with PennDOT on the intensive process of research and development that resulted in Publication 790: Freight Planning Guidance. Released in November of 2020, it’s a valuable, first-of-a-kind resource that’s now available to anyone.
Research for the document was focused on three areas: Requirements of Law, Published Research, and First-Hand experiences. This research included over 39 published references, 10 example freight plans from across the country, and 17 interviews, including experts from smaller rural areas to the third largest seaport in the United States. Those interviewed included industry experts from the I-95 Corridor Coalition, three universities, and the everyday practical wisdom of Pennsylvania’s own leading experts from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Allentown. Jason noted that “PennDOT was very consistent in wanting to capture a multi-modal perspective of freight movement, not just highways and that’s why we talked to representatives from all the modes of freight movement.”
The theme that became evident throughout the interviews is that “one size doesn’t fit all” for regional freight planning. All regions are unique and have their own characteristics of community, industry, geography, and economy. At the same time, and almost without fail, the experts were also noting the importance of following a process that starts with and continuously engages the stakeholders of a region and works together towards a common vision. “The two things everyone I interviewed seemed to talk about were engaging freight industry stake-holders and the importance of land-use,” Jason said.
Currently, there are no other published documents focused on regional freight planning anywhere else in the country, which is what makes the PennDOT approach unique and forward-thinking. Jason believes the publication has the potential to be promoted as a model for planning nationwide.
“The way that we wrote this document was to compile the best practices and lessons learned into a simple process that can be used anywhere. It’s designed to be very adaptable and is intended to help regional planners apply the best practices in their own communities,” Jason said. “I’m excited to see how this publication is used not only by planners, but also local stake-holders who want to be more involved. One thing we all learned from the 2020 pandemic is how important the freight supply chain people and infrastructure are to our daily lives. Maintaining and improving the safety and efficiency of the freight network at all levels helps support a strong and competitive economy.”
Founded in 1986, Larson Design Group is a national, award‐winning, 100 percent employee-owned architecture, engineering and consulting firm with 12 offices in five states and a vision to elevate client relationships, enrich the careers and lives of its employee-owners, and enhance the communities in which it operates. For more information, visit www.larsondesigngroup.com.
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