Creating a Multimodal Freight Program in Florida

Interview with Juan Flores, Administrator for the Florida DOT's Freight, Logistics and Passenger Operations Office

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.

Feigenbaum: What can the U.S. DOT do to improve freight?

Flores: Freight is still somewhat outside the public’s eye. The U.S. DOT, in partnership with state DOTs should emphasize the importance of freight and of freight planning, connecting freight to the daily lives of the general public. We are making the correct investments, but if the public doesn’t understand why, the importance of our efforts is diminished. Participating in public outreach campaigns sets the context for what freight is, and how freight is important to the economy and quality of life. The economic benefits of efficient freight movement should be detailed.

Although we encounter structural challenges between the state and federal level, we are moving towards more integrated freight planning. The U.S. DOT has made positive steps in implementing innovative transportation policy, including the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), which is actually setting real standards for freight planning. MAP-21 authorized the State Freight Advisory Committee to assist the U.S. DOT in developing a National Freight policy, and Florida was one of the first states to provide information and begin state freight planning and performance efforts, with our Florida Freight Mobility and Trade Plan (FMTP). We have completed our FMTP Policy Element and are currently working on the Investment Element of the plan.

Feigenbaum: The importance of freight in the U.S. is often underestimated. How do you make the case that freight is important to your ultimate boss, Florida taxpayers?

Flores: The average American consumes approximately 45 tons of goods each year. Americans and Floridians expect and demand a high standard of living, and freight movement is a critical element in fulfilling this demand. Providing an efficient and effective freight system supports the needs of our citizens, while enhancing quality of life.

Additionally, the investments made to the state are significant. The return on investment from our project has a positive effect on Floridians’ daily quality of life. Based on our Strategic Intermodal System (SIS) Five Year Work Program (July 2013), overall SIS funding totals $1.2 billion. Funding by mode includes:

  • Aviation: $343.7 million
  • Space: $23.5 million
  • Rail: $321.2 million
  • Seaport: $413.9 million
  • Transit: $101.6 million
  • Intermodal: $13 million

Each of these activities creates jobs. According to Enterprise Florida, the state is a leading global trade hub. Florida has the 3rd largest cluster of logistics and distribution establishments in the U.S. Florida also has the 5th highest number of logistics and distribution jobs in the U.S and is the 6th largest exporter in the U.S.

Many times people will consider the negative aspects of freight, such as pollution or congestion, but forget the positive economic benefits of the industry, including job growth, infrastructure enhancement and regional growth.

But while the pure numbers are impressive, I find it more helpful to explain it to people in everyday terms. I like to ask people how they think goods reach their retailers.

Let’s take Publix, a state-based company, as an example. Product A will arrive via ship at the Port of 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!

Feigenbaum: In the new agency, FDOT at a state level has consolidated some modes that are primarily local in scope (transit) with some modes than are national in scope (ports). Why is the state the best agency to coordinate these modes?

Flores: We like to live by the motto “act local, think global.” Florida is different from other states. In other states, such as Georgia, there is one primary metropolitan region, Atlanta, with more than half of the state’s population and economic activity. In Florida, we have multiple regions, some rural and some urbanized, each with unique needs. Even southeast Florida is composed of three very urbanized metropolitan areas (Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach). And north Florida and the panhandle are Florida’s more rural areas. Our district structure allows us to work as one statewide team, while addressing the multimodal needs of each distinct area of our state.

In an attempt to address each region’s unique needs, FLP, working with the FDOT District’s modal staff and secretaries, recently incorporated Regional Freight Coordinators in all its seven district offices and Turnpike to serve as the primary contact for their district in coordinating matters of multimodal mobility-including highways, air, marine, spaceports and rail-and involving multiple public agencies and private businesses to ensure these programs are in alignment with strategic objectives and our work program. Regionalism is important to the growth of our state, and having FDOT coordinate modal activity into one connected system, through FLP, allows for us to address each region’s needs while also meeting statewide intermodal and freight planning goals.

Feigenbaum: Can you describe how your office brings the public and private sectors together?

Flores: Applying an integrated approach to communication, we work closely with our partners, Enterprise Florida, Career Source Florida, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce to educate and create awareness of our initiatives throughout the state. With these partners, we have created the logistics portal, as a mechanism of information sharing between the state of Florida, businesses seeking to relocate, logistics providers and users, and transportation/freight planners and facility operators. Bringing everything together, all partners can better serve the freight and logistics industry.

The Logistics Portal was officially launched on May 17, 2013 by Workforce Florida CEO Chris Hart. The portal serves as a one-stop shop for accessing, growing, and benefitting from Florida’s freight system.

Additionally, Enterprise Florida (EFI), the state’s economic development agency, has three major offices and its role is to work with industry to bring industry planners, engineers and other interested parties together. Unlike other economic development agencies, Enterprise Florida leases space next to DOT at ports and airports. This way, a private business will make an appointment to see Enterprise Florida and they will have a front row view of the actual infrastructure.

Working in conjunction with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) and EFI, we work to develop and plan new intermodal facilities and enhanced connectivity. We also work with EFI in regard to the Economic Development Transportation Fund, one of 12 economic incentive programs used by Enterprise Florida to encourage businesses to locate, expand or remain in our state. EFI acts on behalf of the state to determine the maximum amount of incentive funds that may be awarded to a specific company. The amount of incentive is based on the number of new high-wage Florida jobs that will be created, the amount of company investment and the location of the project.

If the business wants improvements, they can specify those improvements to Enterprise Florida and the economic development agency will determine whether those improvements are a good use of funds. Assuming the business decides it is still interested in relocating to Florida, the business can then come right next door to FDOT and discuss the cost of making these improvements. It is actually a win-win for us and the business. The business can visit one physical site and get all of their questions answered and we can streamline the process for getting new businesses in Florida.

In addition, FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad continues to emphasize the importance of partnering with the Federal Highway Administration by renewing the Partnering Charter in 2012. The partnering charter demonstrates the commitment of both departments to better serve the citizens of Florida and ensure the delivery of Florida’s Transportation System with consistent, predictable and repeatable decisions.

We also have specific job training grants (Quick Response Training) offered through Career Source Florida, distribution advice, and college programs targeted to information technology. Heavy-machine operators can earn more than $100,000 a year with a technical degree, yet without cooperation between the FDOT and our partners, these positions were often left unfilled because residents had nowhere to receive training. Enterprise Florida has also developed a five-year plan in consultation with FDOT to target certain industries that lead to economic development.

Feigenbaum: What are some of the offices most successful projects? Can you list some that may not have happened without the department’s new structure?

Flores: There have been a number of projects. Let me try to describe one project per mode.

For seaports and waterways, we had the Port of Miami dredging. We were the only state to begin dredging a port without federal funds. We want to deepen our ports by the time the Panama Canal expansion is complete. Yet with WRDDA stalled in Congress, we were concerned we would not get the federal funds in time. Therefore, we put our own “skin in the game.” FDOT contributed $117.5 million to the total project cost of $291 million. PortMiami will be one of only three east coast ports that will be able to accommodate larger ships when the canal opens.

For rail, we have the intermodal container transfer facility project at Port Everglades. We are building a new freight rail line to the port to reduce congestion at the port and further down at the rail terminus. The facility is being constructed through the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) and will have its grand opening in July 2014. The project cost was $72 million, and it was funded through a public/private partnership between FEC and Broward County. FDOT contributed a total of $48 million to the project, through a mix of State Infrastructure Bank Loans and grant money.

For transit, we had the MetroRail airport extension. FDOT paid $101 million while Miami-Dade paid $405 million. The expansion will allow future Amtrak trains and improve transit choices at the airport.

As one of Florida’s unique industries, spaceport investments are critical to our state. FDOT spent more than $15 million a year on spaceport projects in 2012 and 2013. These funds will be used to help private companies-including SpaceX, Boeing and Virgin Galactic-build new launch pads and rocket storage facilities. We are also using some of the funds to upgrade the rail tracks to allow passenger service to Port Canaveral. The Port has no current service and adding service may reduce roadway congestion at the cruise port.

Feigenbaum: Is the freight logistics office set, or are more changes planned in the future?

Flores: We are always looking at ways to improve our office. We have recently hired seven new positions to help plan and coordinate multimodal fields including transit, space and aviation. These seven new employees work out of our district offices directly with MPOs and other local agencies. Like other state DOTs our work force is more than 50% smaller than it was 20 years ago. But we think these critical employees will further improve our freight office and allow us to partner with agencies we do not work with on a regular basis.

Juan J. Flores joined the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) as the State Freight, Logistics and Passenger Operations Administrator in fall of 2012. Mr. Flores oversees and leads the FLP office and is responsible for the development of Florida’s first comprehensive intermodal freight plan. Previously, Mr. Flores worked for the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) and as the Freight Program Manager for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Mr. Flores received a Bachelor’s degree from Purdue University, a Masters from George Mason University and an MBA from Mississippi College.

Other articles in Reason Foundation’s Innovators in Action 2014 series are available online here.