USDOT Issues 30-Year Outlook for How Transportation System Might Develop

AASHTO Journal, 6 February 2015

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx unveiled a very-long-term study on how the national transportation network might look in the next 30 years, as a guide to policymakers trying to plan projects and funding.

Foxx said that “Beyond Traffic” study is also designed to help trigger a national conversation on infrastructure needs, and his Department of Transportation is inviting public comment to shape a final report to come out later this year.

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“For too long, our national dialogue about transportation has been focused on recreating the past.¬†Instead, we need to focus on the trends that are shaping our future,” said Foxx. “In Washington, in state capitals and in city halls, it is time to sound the alarm bell: The future is calling. Beyond Traffic gives us a view into 2045 and the basis to plan for it.”

He unveiled the 322-page study and a raft of shorter documents and a short graphic-rich summary video, the same week President Obama sent a budget proposal to Capitol Hill that calls for a six-year, $478 billion investment in highways, transit and passenger rail systems.

The package includes a short “blue paper,” to underscore that this is not a USDOT blueprint but an engagement tool, and which also is packed with graphics to illustrate trends.

Part of the multi-media push included what the USDOT billed as “fireside chat” Foxx held about future transportation trends in a discussion at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., with Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

The goal of the study, Foxx says, is to help shift the national infrastructure discussion away from the short-term funding measures of the past few years and even beyond the next long-term highway bill, and help look at what kind of transportation system the nation will want and need over three decades.

The exercise looks at trends in population growth and changing pleasure travel or commuting demographics, projects growth in freight volume using U.S. roads, rail lines and ports, and considers such issues as rapid changes in transportation technology and how climate change will affect sustainability investment demands.

The effort began in January 2014, when the USDOT began assembling experts from across its agency modal offices. That team developed its own outlook and tapped experts from around the country, along the way sharing key findings in six public webinars sessions that drew 1,300 participants.

The USDOT said the Beyond Traffic report is in three parts. The first one looks at major trends shaping the transportation system. The second part considers the implications for each transportation mode, while the third presents “a possible future scenario” based on the trends and considers policy options.

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