The ARC discovered that a major source of freeway congestion was the abundance of local trucking trips taking place on the freeways. Further investigation uncovered that, in many local communities, truck routing regulations were not harmonized and significantly constrained truck drivers’ abilities to use the local roadway network. Ultimately, this led the ARC to pursue a regional truck routing plan.
Planning Guide Strategies Discussed:
Local truck trips that were taken on the Interstate to bypass local roadway constraints were seen as a significant contributor to congestion in the Atlanta region. The ARC’s MPO conducted a planning study to designate a regional truck-route network to coordinate truck movement throughout the region. This designated network would identify non-Interstate roadways to be used for local commercial vehicle movements. The proposed system, the Atlanta Strategic Truck Route Master Plan, was developed in collaboration with the local jurisdictions within the region. The plan was adopted in July 2010.
The ability to accurately identify projects as having freight components has the potential to shift local match percentages between federal or jurisdictional sources, though it will not increase the overall funding amounts. Recently the MPO identified the lack of education and experience in freight planning at the local level as a factor in the lack of projects and subsequent project funding by the MPO. Freight-designated projects can assist in other areas of transportation. An investment in a truck route, such as the widening of travel lanes or improved technologies, can advance a roadway to accommodate other forms of traffic in a more efficient manner. This may improve capacity, or it may provide for other improvements on roadways that may not directly affect trucks, such as pedestrian-bicycle improvements or landscaping. Funding for these freight-related projects improves the overall economic condition of the jurisdiction.
Local jurisdictions were engaged as part of the overall truck-route planning process by providing policies, regulations, and existing plans. Many jurisdictions lacked a comprehensive plan for truck-route designation and enforcement. Most of the existing plans were significantly dated. During interviews with each jurisdiction, the need for a comprehensive system for regional movements was frequently voiced, as was significant endorsement for its establishment. Many county-level jurisdictions noted that a regional effort was needed before initiating a more detailed system encompassing local roads. Several jurisdictions had begun development of similar systems—and then ceased the development as a result of community or political resistance. Adoption of a regional system was viewed as a first step toward promoting greater support for local systems.
Private-sector incorporation was a key factor in the planning process. As with the local jurisdictions, large motor carriers and suppliers with significant private fleets were invited to participate in the process. Because they were experiencing current and increasing challenges from the congestion and prohibited routes in the region, several key private-sector participants accepted. These participants (e.g., UPS, FedEx Freight, and Coca-Cola) all provided open access to drivers and dispatching staff, and hosted on-site meetings at local terminals for the planning staff.
In their comments and their involvement in the planning effort, local jurisdictions supported the benefits and values of a designated system. The system was placed before the ARC board (which consisted of representatives of the same local jurisdictions) and unanimously adopted. Following the adoption of the regional plan, three jurisdictions pursued initial discussions of more localized networks, forming a development team for a regional plan. However, limited funding was applied to other priorities. Other jurisdictions viewed the central plan as providing sufficient route designation to support local truck movements, and they envisioned potential future planning efforts with increased truck volumes and economic development in their areas.
The stakeholder engagement plan relied on a high degree of public-sector and private-sector participation, which presented challenges to gaining participation and the project’s schedule. The plan’s scope included a project life cycle of 18 months from initial outreach to final network presentation for board approval. With 18 counties, the city of Atlanta, and four independent municipalities for public-sector outreach, and 30 days to solicit policy and plan expectations, presenting a valid value proposition statement and a continuing engagement schedule was necessary. An added complexity of the task was the desire to include municipal involvement within each of the county discussions for greater detailed expectations and develop ownership at the broader base.
The initial effort to promote participation built on the goodwill from jurisdictional involvement activities as part of the Regional Freight Mobility Plan, which had been completed 2 years earlier. The MPO staff, consultant team, and select private-sector leaders with local jurisdictional ties approached those with extensive freight-related challenges. With commitments from participants that had greater investment in the plan, the employment of an “if me, then you” strategy proved successful.
The lack of desire to include specified commercial vehicle routings within jurisdictions by local citizenry, the significant level of mixed land use within each area, and the varied levels of education among the jurisdictions on the “business and benefits of freight” required a value proposition with a broad appeal. Using materials prepared by other jurisdictions to educate the public on the importance of freight, preparatory education was provided before scheduling discussions.
The project team extended the preparation process used in the public-sector outreach to the private-sector effort. The variances in planning horizons, lack of engagement on other topical plans with freight implications, lack of knowledge about the public-sector planning process, and limited advertisement of public-sector project responses to previous private-sector inputs were initial challenges to the project. A further area of private-sector reluctance was the manner in which they had historically been engaged. Typical efforts had included large concentrations of public-sector participants at the sessions, to the extent that public-sector participants sometimes outnumbered the private-sector participants; the use of public-sector venues; and scheduling the sessions during times that limited private-sector involvement. An advance effort in providing relevant education to address each of these obstacles assisted greatly in gaining private-sector support.
The regional adoption of plans, and the preparation for investment in future planning and funding for freight enhancements, continues at the MPO level. The ARC sponsors three goals in preparing the MPO’s future freight efforts to promote MAP-21 objectives:
- Identifying, scoping, and costing innovative freight projects that can be implemented through the Freight Operations and Safety Program
- Supporting economic development by identifying issues adversely impacting the vital logistics industry
- Helping support “Freight as a Good Neighbor”
Supporting these goals, in a presentation to the region’s technical committee on March 7, 2013, the ARC presented the following activity schedule for freight programs:
- Identify Regional Facilities to Include on the National Freight Network
- Freight Study Program Pilot Project
- Enhance Freight Planning Tools
- PIERS Export Data
- Speed Data (ATRI/INRIX)
- Begin Major Update of Regional Mobility Plan
- Emphasize the Economic Development Impacts of Freight in Post-PLAN 2040 RTP
As part of a collaborative funding project with the Georgia DOT, a call for projects was announced in 2012. The projects were to be submitted for local jurisdictions, and were intended to have a freight focus and support local and regional goods movement. This identification of the projects as “freight” projects was later determined to be an influencing factor in a general lack of response.
The designated system, communicated via the ARC website, has not been implemented. The plan to support education, signage, and other necessary actions to produce a usable system are being supported by subsequent actions of ARC and the Georgia DOT, as they collaborate to promote freight-friendly policies and projects.
Long-range, local planning efforts in the area of freight are limited by funding and by social-political support to specific freight planning activities. Individual efforts that target specific areas are ongoing. For example, reviews of alternative roadways designation for use as connectors to freight generators is one area where local planning efforts continue to occur.
The continuing efforts to promote a plan with varying degrees of detail and jurisdiction are subject to funding limitations, community priorities, and the observed need to promote projects of this type. Jurisdictional responsibilities and shared strategies influence whether regionalized systems get implemented. The degree of implementation impacts the local jurisdictional priorities for the development of more localized plans.
Discussions with the involved private-sector participants on the lack of observable implementation of the regional plan have found:
- Reluctance to respond to further planning efforts on this scale
- Desire to have the system realized (e.g., signage), to halt further prohibitions in local jurisdictions
- Continuing efforts for local jurisdictions to respond with local truck routes conducive to freight needs
- Observed local projects that reflect those improvements identified in the regional plan