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DOT: Coming growth of population, freight volume creates major challenges for transportation industry

The DOT and Secretary Anthony Foxx released the Beyond Traffic 2045 report this week outlining some of the transportation and infrastructure challenges America will face over the next 30 years.

A report released this week by outgoing Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx looks at the next three decades of the U.S.’ transportation system and outlines the challenges lawmakers will face based on population growth, freight volume, climate change and new technologies, such as driverless cars.

The main strategies Foxx outlines in the report for facing down the coming challenges include keeping current roads, bridges and ports in good repair; funding and prioritizing new projects based on future projections rather than looking back at what the country has done in the past; and using new technologies and better designs to make the most of old and new infrastructure.

The Beyond Traffic 2045 report, which is based on current trends, as well as predictions for the next 30 years, analyzes the trends and presents discussions about what the United States’ transportation system’s needs will be over the next three decades and what will need to be prioritized during that time. Foxx says the report is not meant to be a specific plan of action for lawmakers, but rather a starting point for discussions on how to improve our infrastructure going forward.

The analysis in the report outlines six major trends that will influence transportation going forward – freight volume and movement, population growth, climate change, emerging technologies, growing opportunity for citizens and how to invest money into infrastructure – and identifies some policy changes that will need to be made to keep up with the changes.

With freight volume projected to increase by more than 40 percent by 2045, driven in large part by online shopping, Foxx says some key policy options for lawmakers to discuss in the future include improving freight planning and coordination at national, regional and local levels; targeting policies and investments aimed at reducing freight congestion; and encouraging new strategies for first- and last-mile freight issues.

On population growth, Foxx says it’s predicted that America’s population will grow by 70 million by 2045, and by 2050, 75 percent of Americans will live in 11 “megaregions” with rural populations continuing to drop. To address this growth, Foxx says lawmakers should look at increasing infrastructure capacity with new roads and bridges, while maintaining and using existing infrastructure more effectively. Congestion could also be reduced, he says, through land use, telework, more flexible work schedules and more.

Designing and building better, more resilient infrastructure to withstand changes that are predicted to come along with climate change – such as rising sea levels and more frequent and intense storms – is another point Foxx lays out in the report. He says making it easier and more cost-effective to develop vehicles that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions can help mitigate the effects of climate change.

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With more automation and robotics on the horizon, Foxx says it will be important to address regulatory barriers slowing down new technologies, while also improving infrastructure to support these technologies. Most importantly, though, is maintaining a focus on safety, he says.

To grow opportunity for more citizens, the report states the country needs to prioritize transportation investments in communities with the greatest needs and make sure local communities benefit from transportation investments.

Finally, Foxx says lawmakers need to ensure there are adequate revenues to address critical infrastructure needs through existing taxes, new excise taxes, user fees, tolls and more, and to reduce spending to match the revenues.

The full 239-page Beyond Traffic 2045 report can be found here.

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Matt Cole is an Associate Editor for CCJ and Overdrive. Reach him at mattcole@randallreilly.com.

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