Up to 80% of all products—in terms of tonnage and volume—move across the United States by truck, notes Charles Edwards, Director of Logistics Strategy at the North Carolina Department of Transportation and one of two authors of Roadmap 2.0’s section on Logistics Infrastructure. For that reason alone, economic prosperity is inherently tied to our nation’s logistics infrastructure.
“As part of a department of transportation, we’re taking a close look at how to design infrastructure that maximizes flexibility and adapts to the multi-modal supply chain transformations and technologies that are coming at us very, very quickly,” he explains, adding that infrastructure developments between now and 2030 will need to account for autonomous vehicles of all sizes. “Within the past few months we saw platooning of automated trucks at the Port of Columbus, Ohio, and droids the size and shape of a cooler operating on the sidewalks of Richmond, Virginia.”
The evolving business environment means planners like Edwards and his colleagues have likewise evolved from the historic infrastructure planning method of designing and building a road that will remain serviceable for the next 30 to 40 years, he says.
“That’s a very different approach to how we’ve done it traditionally, so how do we plan for that? Fundamentally, we are beginning to realize—and the research that we’ve done supports this—that infrastructure reliability is key to supply chain success and overall economic prosperity,” continues Edwards.
“If a company knows with confidence that their truck will hit the bumper at the dock door or at the customer routinely within 15 minutes, they can plan around that, keep their operations on a tight schedule, and keep their customers happy,” he adds. “The physical infrastructure has to be in place to support that.”
It’s no secret that America’s infrastructure is in dire need of improvement; the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASEC) consistently rates it as “D” grade, reflecting the general state of repair of existing structures and the available capacity of the system to meet the need to move goods across the country. In ASEC’s most recent report, Edwards notes, ports, railroads and bridges received a passing grade; aviation assets, inland waterways, roads, levees and dams were failing.
“To bring our nation’s infrastructure back to the standard that it was in 1990, we need to spend $5 trillion. Yet our government has been funding infrastructure repairs based on the gas tax,” he says. “The government has also been requiring automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars. Guess what? We’re not consuming as much fuel as we used to, which means we aren’t generating the revenue needed to fund these infrastructure improvements.”
The answer, Edwards says, lies in collaborative relationships between public and private entities. “Those are some of the issues that we’re grappling with as a practitioner, that we know everybody is grappling with as an industry. We can only achieve a solution by working together and not in silos,” he continues, adding that now is the time for businesses and industry to begin reaching out to governments to build collaborative relationships.
“Don’t yell at the transportation planner after the road is built; find those people now and start telling them what you think your business is going to need,” concludes Edwards. “It’s a lot easier to change a line on a piece of paper than to dig up concrete after it’s been laid—trust me. It’s also a lot cheaper.”
To find out more about the road to economic prosperity and its connection to physical infrastructure between now and 2030, download the free Roadmap 2.0 report here.