Article originally published in Catalyst, February 6, 2023.
Supply chains aren’t normally at the top of the news, but pandemic-related disruptions and empty shelves have put them there. What does the future hold for freight and supply chain resilience? Speakers at the 25th Annual Freight and Logistics Symposium reviewed recent challenges and discussed how to make supply chains more cooperative, connected, and resilient.
Transportation has the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, and trucks make up a significant proportion of that. Most states and local governments have plans to significantly reduce air pollution caused by transportation. The widespread use of electric vehicles is a primary means to achieve that goal. While personal electric vehicles have found their way to the automobile market and charging infrastructures are becoming more available in urban areas, electric trucks would have a bumpy road to being adopted en masse. This is due to the lack of widespread charging infrastructure and incentivizing policies, as well as technical and operational challenges confronting the trucking industries.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are becoming increasingly important factors in the modern workforce. Integrating DEI is not only a strong moral move that can set an organization apart from its peers but also a way to promote innovation, attract talent, and retain valuable employees in a tight labor market.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has 137 truck stations across the state. These stations house and allow maintenance of MnDOT highway equipment as well as provide office and work space for highway maintenance staff. Within 20 years, 80 of these stations will need to be replaced as they reach the end of their effective life spans. Researchers developed a geographic information system based modeling tool to determine the most effective locations for truck stations in the state. Using data from many sources, a new research study has determined that MnDOT could rebuild 123 stations, relocate 24 on land available to MnDOT and combine two. MnDOT would save millions of dollars using the location optimization alternatives over the 50-year life cycle of a typical truck station.
The second phase is nearing completion for a project aimed at creating a Unified Permitting Process (UPP) for oversize/overweight (OSOW) vehicles in Minnesota. One outcome of this phase is a roadmap that will define steps for future phases, including statewide implementation.
Currently, haulers need to apply for OSOW permits with each individual roadway authority they will travel through. MnDOT, counties, townships, and cities all administer permits for their own roadways—so several different permit applications and processes can be required for a single haul.
“The streamlined permitting process is expected to increase efficiencies for the freight industry, which is good for our economy,” says Clark Moe, systems coordinator with MnDOT’s Operations Division, Office of Maintenance. “It will also enable more effective enforcement and help us preserve the quality of our road network.”
Through the UPP, agencies should have a better idea of what’s happening on their roads, says Rich Sanders, county engineer for Polk County. “Throughout the state, there are a lot of hauls we don’t even know about, let alone if they will use a restricted bridge or road.”
UPP Phases I and II
Phase I of the UPP project examined the feasibility of implementing a permitting platform. Completed in 2017, this phase included listening sessions across the state with the hauling industry, local agency engineers, law enforcement, state agencies, and MnDOT staff. Eighteen public and private entities collaborated to develop policies, processes, and plans for UPP technology. The final report concluded that a reference platform system for processing permit applications would be the best approach to explore.
Phase II was a proof-of-concept pilot project spanning St. Louis County, Polk County, the City of Duluth, and MnDOT Districts 1 and 2. The goal was to see if a permitting platform would work across jurisdictions connecting various permitting software and using multiple system processes. “The platform has to be usable in different ways and be able to channel payment back to MnDOT or a county or city,” Sanders says. “Phase II showed UPP could work.”
Phase II also underscored the complexity of the issues to come. “The vision is for haulers to enter their license data, and the required permit data would automatically populate the permit,” says Mitch Rasmussen, assistant commissioner with MnDOT State Aid. “But all kinds of software systems are now in use by local agencies, and MnDOT’s Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operation is preparing to replace the two online systems it’s been using for decades. All the systems will need to talk to the unified platform. It will take time and money to build. The roadmap from Phase II can help us get there.”
Policy and fee differences are another challenge. To gather context and ideas, MnDOT recently completed a Transportation Research Synthesis to explore the practices of other state transportation agencies in setting, collecting, and distributing permit fees for heavy commercial OSOW vehicles (see related article). Another MnDOT study is under way to gather basic data about the permit fee policies of counties in Minnesota and throughout the country, including authority for the fees, cost range, and fee types.
When Polk County switched from a paper system to an electronic one, industry started applying for permits more consistently, Sanders says. With the paper system, five or six permit applications would be faxed in each year, and approval could take two days. But with its online system, the county received 201 applications between January 1 and October 26, 2018. “Approval might take us 30 seconds,” he notes.
UPP work to date has been funded by MnDOT and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board. Others involved include the Federal Highway Administration, state agencies (Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Driver and Vehicle Services, Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota IT Services Geospatial Information Office), associations (Minnesota Association of Townships, Minnesota County Engineers Association, Associated General Contractors of America), private businesses (ProWest, SRF Consulting, Midstate Reclamation & Trucking, Tiller Corporation), and educational institutions (Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, NDSU; Alexandria Technical & Community College). UPP Phases I & II were a unique collaborative public-private partnership to resolve a long-standing problem.
Next phases and final outcome
Moving forward, Phase III will begin development of the unified system using real data from multiple road authorities and databases in MnDOT Districts 1 and 2. Phase IV will take the platform beyond Districts 1 and 2 and roll out the system for testing statewide. Estimated completion is two to three years.
“Under current plans for the unified system, Minnesota road authorities will continue to set their own fees and may be able to connect their existing software, although some interoperable adaptations will be needed,” Moe says. “The new permitting process will focus on education for haulers, permitting agencies, and the public, as well as engineering decisions by agencies. This, in turn, will lead to increased enforcement effectiveness to help preserve road quality while boosting the economy.”
“Many decisions are still on tap,” Rasmussen adds. “There’s no decision yet of who’s going to own it and manage it, for example, or what fees might be recommended. There are a million moving parts, and many agencies and interests are involved. But we’re taking big strides toward our central goal: putting the right load on the right road, the right way, right away.”
Researchers produced a proof-of-concept for developing a one-stop permitting process that would allow commercial haulers to plan a travel route and secure all required permits from a single source. MnDOT is working to develop a first-of-its-kind, unified permitting process to consolidate the requirements of every jurisdiction in the state into a single, quick-response platform that meets the needs of haulers.
“From a hauler’s perspective, the permitting process can be very cumbersome. Each agency’s application is different as are the general provisions that haulers need to follow,” said Renae Kuehl, Senior Associate, SRF Consulting Group, Inc.
“As carriers, we’re trying to do our due diligence in getting permits. But the current process can lead to significant safety and legal risks,” said Richard Johnson, Transportation Manager, Tiller Corporation.
What Was the Need?
Hauling oversize or overweight freight on Minnesota’s roadway system—highways, county roads, township roads and city streets—requires approval by each governing authority along the route. Roadway managers must review hauler travel plans to make sure size and weight limits for vehicles and loads will not endanger roadway facilities, hauler equipment and personnel before issuing the over-size or overweight permit.
Any single hauling route may require permits from multiple roadway authorities, each with different application procedures and response times. Some governing bodies, MnDOT among them, issue these permits online and can turn them around in minutes. Other agencies issue permits by mail, fax or email, which can take several days.
Haulers, however, may not have time to wait for a permit. If equipment breaks down at a loading site, for example, replacement equipment is needed immediately to meet contract deadlines and avoid paying labor costs for idle workers. A construction emergency may also demand large equipment be towed to a site. In situations like these, haulers often make the trip without appropriate permitting, accepting the legal and safety risks.
What Was Our Goal?
To simplify the permitting process, Minnesota local agencies would like to develop an online permitting application process that would allow permit-seekers to determine routes based on their vehicle and load size, and secure all necessary permits at one time. This research, the first phase of a multiphase study, aimed to determine the feasibility of a one-stop, unified permitting process by studying its technological and operational needs and gathering input from various stakeholders.
What Did We Do?
Investigators worked with the Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) and a group of policy experts from county and state agencies, commercial haulers and consultants to identify audiences with a stake in a unified permitting process. During meetings in northern Minnesota and in the Twin Cities area, investigators and TAP members met with key stakeholders: haulers and representatives from industry organizations; seven MnDOT offices (including Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations, Information Technology, Maintenance and Geospatial Information); Minnesota counties; the City of Duluth; the Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council; Minnesota State Patrol; the State Patrol Commercial Vehicle Section; and a county sheriff’s office.
The research team identified the challenges and needs of each stakeholder and organized the concerns according to policy, process and technology. Then they explored solutions that would allow the development of a one-stop permitting process.
What Did We Learn?
Researchers determined that a unified permitting process is feasible. Policy issues include the need to standardize general provisions statewide, such as travel hours, insurance requirements and warning devices such as flagging needs. For example, currently the color of flags and lettering on banners vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; well-framed general provisions could make these requirements more uniform to serve multiple jurisdictions. The information required by each governing authority in its permit applications could also be normalized.
Process issues were about workflow. More than 80 percent of hauler requests are repeat-able: A commercial haul may be run on the same route with the same-size load three times a month for four months and may not require a full reapplication each time. Some agencies rely on paper, fax or emails to receive permit requests; others purchase permit-ting software; still others build their own software. These systems could be made more uniform so they could interact and share information among agencies.
Technology issues called for an interoperable system that could bring together geographic information system (GIS) capabilities and regulatory data that could be both received and shared. Mapping data could identify each permit required along a route being developed, and a portal could allow agencies to share information as well as allow permit-seekers to enter information and retrieve permits themselves. A portal could also integrate different software packages while offering information like Minnesota’s Gopher State One Call digging hotline.
In Phase II of this project, which has already begun, researchers will develop a pilot portal that allows users to create route plans, identify permits needed and apply for all permits in one action. Investigators will test the platform with a three-county group. If this effort is successful, researchers will build a unified permitting process for use within all jurisdictions in Minnesota.
MnDOT is also enhancing its software for handling oversize/overweight permits and carrier credentials. Transportation Research Synthesis 1704 surveyed state agencies about current offerings.
How does the ability to move freight affect the economic health of a state, region, and even a city? How are the supply chains of businesses impacted by freight flow? And what challenges and opportunities does Minnesota face when it comes to leveraging and strengthening its freight modes?
The 2016 Freight and Logistics Symposium offered a thoughtful examination of those questions and explored other topics related to improved mobility in Minnesota, including congestion, regulation, labor shortages, and the value of all freight modes to the state’s economy.
The event, held December 2, 2016, in Minneapolis, included:
A presentation on the power of freight flow data in attracting industry to a location and ways to use data in making a compelling case for businesses to invest
A panel Q&A featuring four industry experts from diverse organizations that depend on reliable freight movement
A discussion of how the 2016 election results may affect freight transportation
The symposium was sponsored by CTS in cooperation with MnDOT, the Minnesota Freight Advisory Committee, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, the Metropolitan Council, and the Transportation Club of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Interstates 90 and 94 between Wisconsin and the state of Washington are major corridors for commercial and recreational travel. Extreme winter weather conditions, prevalent in the northern states within this corridor, pose significant operational and travel-related challenges. Recognizing the value of coordinated, cross-border collaboration for ITS deployment, Minnesota spearheaded the development of a transportation pooled fund study, called North/West Passage, in 2003.
The eight states – Minnesota, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming – involved in the study are predominantly rural and face similar transportation issues related to traffic management, traveler information and commercial vehicle operations. They developed an ITS Integrated Work Plan and have completed nine work plans containing 50 projects.
North West Passage Traveler Information Website (roadstosafediscovery.com), the group’s hallmark project, offers travel information for I-90 and I-94 in a single interactive map. In addition to checking weather conditions, road closures and temporary truck restrictions, motorists can find the location of gas stops, rest areas and parks.
The states are currently evaluating a program that allows citizens to report driving conditions so that they can be included in traveler information reporting (a pilot is underway with MnDOT’s 511 system), and another project is comparing winter maintenance practices between corridor states.
“The biggest benefit of this pooled fund study is that it allows MnDOT to see what its neighbors are doing when developing solutions for operational issues. This awareness really helps us make better decisions about our projects at the state level,” said Cory Johnson, Traffic Research Director, MnDOT Office of Traffic, Safety and Technology.
Other major accomplishments:
North and South Dakota 511 callers can select to receive information on Minnesota’s highways.
An online portal for coordination of traffic management center operations, including guidelines, maps and contact information to manage major events across states.
Development of one proposal to hire a contractor to perform work in two states.
For more than 30 years, the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA’s) Transportation Pooled Fund (TPF) Program has been providing state departments of transportation and other organizations the opportunity to collaborate in solving transportation-related problems. The TPF Program is focused on leveraging limited funds, avoiding duplication of effort, undertaking large-scale projects and achieving broader dissemination of results on issues of regional and national interest.
Today, moving freight accounts for more than a third of the world’s transport energy—and that share is growing. The rise in global trade, online retailing, and business-to-business delivery is not only changing how goods are moved but also the type of goods moved and how far or frequently they are transported.
Currently, this massive movement of goods throughout the economy relies on an intricate—and largely decentralized—multimodal network of truck, rail, ship, and airplane delivery. However, change is on the horizon. In a study sponsored by MnDOT and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board, U of M experts outline the important impacts these changes will have on the road network and transportation infrastructure.
“There is hope that new methods of organization and proposed standardization will increase efficiency of freight movement and give rise to a new era of goods transport,” says Adam Boies, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering (CEGE). “In the years to come, we expect that advances in logistics systems will be enabled by new technologies, approaches, and the desire for increased efficiency.”
Changes in the way logistics operations are organized will help drive advances. New information technology permits the sharing of data between and across businesses, which in turn drives efficiency and leads to fuller vehicles. “This may reduce the distance traveled by heavy goods vehicles per unit of GDP, which may in turn reduce costs and entice more demand for delivered goods,” says CEGE professor David Levinson, the study’s principal investigator. “Ultimately, this could mean fewer trips by individual consumers and more deliveries. We anticipate the result will be a net reduction in distance traveled.”
The study also examined some of the potential drivers for changes in the freight industry as a result of logistics reorganization. These include supply chain pooling, in which individual logistics operations are shared between collaborators, and the Physical Internet Initiative, which seeks to create standards for packaging to enable the homogenization of freight technology. “While both of these advancements have the potential to increase logistics efficiency by reducing the transportation of empty loads, they will also increase truck weights—which may increase pavement damage,” Boies says.
Other transportation and logistics changes will result from shifts in the ways businesses and consumers receive goods and services, including business-to-business systems and technologies that enable a sharing economy, same-day delivery services, 3-D printing, and “last mile” delivery services. In addition, a growing portion of purchases can be delivered directly over the Internet. “Delivery is easily automated for data-based goods like books, music, video, and software,” Levinson says. “Purchases that could once only be completed by moving things can now be done by moving data.”
MnDOT, in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration, is test-deploying a high-tech system to help combat drowsy driving and keep truck drivers in compliance with federal hours-of-service regulations.
Developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota, the prototype system lets drivers know when parking spaces are available at rest stops ahead. It has been deployed at several locations along the heavily traveled I-94 corridor between Minneapolis and St. Cloud.
ST. PAUL, Minn. – New technology along the I-94 corridor west and northwest of the Twin Cities is helping truckers find safe places to park. Three Minnesota Department of Transportation rest areas are now equipped with automated truck stop management systems that tell truck drivers when parking spaces are available.
The technology will improve safety, lead to better trip and operations management by drivers and carriers and help MnDOT and private truck stop owners manage their facilities more effectively, according to John Tompkins, MnDOT project manager.
“So far, the results have been positive. We’ve had 95 percent accuracy in determining the availability of spaces,” he said.
Federal hours of service rules require truck drivers to stop and rest after 11 hours of driving. Tompkins said if drivers continue to drive beyond 11 hours, they could become fatigued and be forced to park in unsafe locations such as freeway ramps. They could also face legal penalties.
The problem of truck driver fatigue recently took the national spotlight when an allegedly drowsy driver slammed his semitrailer into a limousine carrying actor-comedian Tracy Morgan and six others. One passenger died in the crash.