Out of Control Policy Blog

Establishing a Multimodal Freight Program in Florida

Last month I interviewed Juan Flores, Administrator, Freight, Logistics and Passenger Operations Office, Florida Department of Transportation. 

Flores, with the backing of Florida Governor Rick Scott and FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad, has transformed the freight office structure at FDOT. Previously freight was located in many different modal offices. Trucking was housed in the highway office; air cargo was housed in the aviation office. Today Motro Carrier, Rail, Transit, Seaports, Waterways, Aviation and Spaceports are integrated into one office. As many transportation components are intermodal, combining modes into one office conserves resources and creates connections. 

Freight, often overlooked by the public, is a critical part of the transportation network. While the numbers are impressive, the role of freight is more understandable in every day terms. Publix, the 5th largest grocery store in the U.S., helps show the importance of a robust transportation network for freight. Product A arrives via a ship from Jacksonville. The product sits in a port warehouse until it is loaded onto a train bound for South Florida. At the CSX or Norfolk Southern intermodal station, the product is loaded onto a truck. The truck then transports the product to your Publix where you can buy it. This includes three different modes just for one product! 

While an intermodal structure may not work for all states, it has been tremendously successful in Florida.

The full interview is available here

Florida, like most east coast states, saw a deepened Panama Canal as an economic opportunity. But Florida, unlike most states, did not stop with plans for deepening the harbors of its seaports. The Florida Department of Transportation, working with industry partners, has developed a multimodal freight strategy, unlike any other state DOT organization. 

Originating from a collaboration between Governor Rick Scott and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Secretary Ananth Prasad, the Office of Freight Logistics and Passenger Operations (FLP) combines Motor Carrier, Rail, Transit, Seaport, Waterways, Aviation and Spaceport into one multimodal division. As many transportation components are intermodal, combining modes into one office conserves resources and creates connections between both highway and non-highway modes. 

As transportation components are intermodal in nature, there are connections between each modal office. Freight, for example, travels by road, rail, plane and ship. In a traditional DOT, freight would fall into various offices, sometimes embedded within other modal activities. In FDOT, FLP handles all aspects of freight and intermodal mobility. In 2013, FLP was nationally recognized by the Brookings Institution, as one of the Top 10 State and Metropolitan Innovations to watch. 

In June 2014, Reason Foundation Assistant Director of Transportation Policy Baruch Feigenbaum interviewed Juan Flores, Administrator for the Freight, Logistics and Passenger Operations Office to discuss the formation of the office, importance of freight to the economy, and growth opportunities for Florida. 

Baruch Feigenbaum, Reason Foundation: What is the Freight Logistics and Passenger Operations Office? Why was it created? What is its purpose? 

Juan Flores, Administrator, Freight, Logistics and Passenger Operations Office, Florida Department of Transportation: The Freight Logistics and Passenger

Operations Office was created in December of 2011, replacing the former Public Transportation Office. The office serves to communicate and coordinate the working initiatives of all modes within one program.

Under the leadership of Governor Scott, the state has taken a comprehensive look at its economic opportunities. Bill Johnson, former director of PortMiami, brought the multimodal approach to the attention of the governor, who communicated this method to the FDOT Secretary of Transportation Secretary, Ananth Prasad. Prasad liked the idea and began restructuring FDOT’s modal structure.

Two of our top goals include reducing freight congestion and increasing statewide economic development. 

Feigenbaum: Many states find a modal structure to be the best approach. Can you explain why the integrated approach is the best fit for Florida? 

Flores: For Florida, the intermodal approach also allows for a system of enhanced collaboration. With open discussion and regional outreach through events such as the Intermodal Logistics Center Forum and our Freight Mobility and Trade Plan Leadership and Business Forums (gaining insight and recommendations from industry stakeholders), the FLP Office understands the importance of state-wide collaboration to address the specific needs of the public and private sector in the process of enhancing freight logistics systems. 

Making the most of our investments is important, and connectivity is the key in this process. Trucks still transport more freight than any other mode; however it is also important to evaluate how trucking interacts systematically with other freight modes. Combining these modes improves our multimodal planning. This intermodal approach works for us. 

Through an intermodal approach, we are also investing in strategies to increase Florida exports through freight system enhancement. Having all modes under one office allows us to create relationships between the modes. 

The majority of our 15 seaports focus on either container or roll-on roll-off freight and we are making significant investments in intermodal logistic centers, and seaport dredging and enhancements. Ports are definite economic drivers for Florida: $85.6 billion in waterborne international trade came through Florida ports in 2012, and $90.3 billion was generated in economic value by our seaports. 

In addition, our entire commercial and many of our general aviation airports handle freight shipments, working with our seaports in freight connectivity and enhancements. In 2013, Miami International Airport (MIA) was the leading airport for international freight in the country and the 9th in international freight worldwide. MIA is also the world’s largest gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean, handling 84% of all air imports and 81% of all exports from the Latin American region. 

In regard to truck transportation, motor carrier has been added to our office and coordinates with truckers, shippers, the other modal offices, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO), and an in-house Motor Carrier Working Group to address freight transportation issues and needs. 

FLP has and continues to work with Florida’s MPO Advisory Committee (MPOAC), to coordinate freight initiatives across the state’s 26 MPOs. For the state to succeed, goods movement planning needs to occur at all levels in a coordinated fashion. Freight does not stop at county, state, or even country boundaries. 

We have also worked to include our MPOs early in the planning process. We have found that by talking early in the process, we can speed up project delivery time tables and reduce costs. 

For example, an MPO may be opposed to locating a freight terminal in a certain location. However, certain businesses will not locate in that area without that terminal. Negotiations between the MPO, FDOT and the business may allow the freight terminal to be moved to a different location with less community opposition. The location still serves the businesses’ interest and allows the three organizations to move forward as partners rather than adversaries.

Feigenbaum: Are there disadvantages to integrating freight modes? 

Flores: I would say there aren’t straight disadvantages, rather challenges. One structural challenge comes in understanding the needs of the individual modes of transportation, on the regional and statewide scale, and implementing strategies which best fit each mode, while still focusing on multimodal advancement. Another challenge, as we change structure from a modal perspective to an intermodal model, is integrating state policy with the direction of the U.S. DOT and federal policy. 

To address these challenges, we have worked to develop partnerships on the national level by collaborating with the U.S. DOT, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). FDOT hosted the U.S. DOT leadership team last year, for a site tour and visit of the agency’s investments in Southern Florida, including: Miami Intermodal Center (MIC), PortMiami, FEC Railroad and Intermodal Transfer Facility (ITCF), Port Tunnel, Port Everglades Cruise Operations, Miami Air Cargo facility and MRO Hanger, I-95 Managed lanes, Space Coast and Kennedy Space Center. 

In addition, tourism provides another challenge for Florida. In 2012, Florida received a record of 89 million visitors. The annual number of tourists coming to Florida is expected to reach 106 million by 2040, an increase of over 18% from 2012. This means more residents and tourists will use our transportation system. We coordinated $200 million in tourism-related freight projects that will improve goods movement in the Orlando and Tampa areas. 

Feigenbaum: Are there other states that have freight offices similar to Florida’s? 

Flores: Several states have similar features. Georgia, Mississippi, Virginia and Washington State are a few states that have intermodal features 

The rest of the interview is available here.

Baruch Feigenbaum is Transportation Policy Analyst


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