HD45 - Establishment of an Intermodal Coordinating Council

Executive Summary:
The 1997 General Assembly requested through Section 496(e) of the 1997 Appropriations Act that the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), study whether to establish an Intermodal Coordinating Council as a possible adjunct to the CTB.

Historically, planning and decision-making activities for each mode were done separately, focusing only on individual modes of transportation. Today's transportation challenges dictate a different focus and approach. Virginia's transportation agencies have responded to the challenges of the 21st century. The Transportation Secretariat has shifted its focus toward system choices, understanding that Virginia must have an integrated vision for a transportation system that provides a coordinated, intermodal, comprehensive system that effectively considers all modes and the connections among them. Intermodal considerations are an intrinsic part of the planning process.

There is a critical distinction between multimodal and intermodal planning. "Multimodal" essentially means the existence of more than a single mode in a given corridor or region. Sometimes the term can be used to describe a policy decision-making process that adapts a generic, non-mode specific approach to defining and evaluating transportation problems and choosing a modal or intermodal proposed outcome or resolution. It attempts to provide an unbiased estimate of each mode's contribution, singly or in combination, to solve the problem. Intermodal planning, on the other hand, examines the policy and service interactions between and among modes, focusing on ensuring ease of movement for both people and/or freight when transferring from one mode to another. Intermodalism doesn't mean non-highway transportation. It focuses on the key connections among highways, transit, rail, aviation, ports and the other modes of transportation, working to develop seamless and interconnected transportation services.

Very significantly, these definitions are working definitions. There is no single, exclusive, authoritatively-accepted definition of intermodalism. A few years ago the Office of Intermodalism in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST) at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) attempted through the regulatory process to work a definition acceptable to all the various modal administrations (agencies) of USDOT, and failed. The approach proposed by the Office of Intermodalism relied on "connections" among the modes, "competition" in the marketplace and "choice" to the travelling public in how they chose to travel and to shippers in the movement of freight.

Similarly, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) also attempted to incorporate its own somewhat different definition through the rulemaking processes that emanated from the federal rules on metropolitan planning and statewide planning, and the intermodal management system (all resulting from USDOT's interpretation of ISTEA requirements). FHWA also failed to achieve approval within USDOT for inclusion of these definitional references.

Context is also an important consideration. In the public sector, intermodalism is generally considered a relatively broad concept, oftentimes encompassing not just the issue of connections between/among the modes, but also merely the simple presence of more than one mode in a particular corridor or problem scope, regardless of how well they interact (or interact at all). In the private freight sector, an "intermodal" movement takes a very specific form, namely, the movement of a maritime container from a vessel to a chassis for over-the-road movement or onto an intermodal train. Or, it refers to a truck trailer put on a flatcar in a so-called piggy-back train configuration for long-haul movement.

Transportation planning is not a collection of documents that outline proposed projects, but a process of selecting the best solutions to a given transportation problem. As the examples outlined in the report show, intermodal considerations are an intrinsic component of the Transportation Secretariat's on-going planning and programming processes.

With the inclusion of the Virginia Port Authority in the Transportation Secretariat, now all the modes are represented under a common rubric. The Secretary conducts weekly meetings of the agency heads. They are informal and relatively unstructured, but have provided an essential but easy means to facilitate very sound intermodal oversight via a collegial arrangement among the agency heads themselves.

If the General Assembly is interested in producing a map that depicts the key intermodal connections in the Commonwealth, which could include planned projects, the Secretary of Transportation would be able to fulfill a request. If deemed useful, an intermodal map could be updated every two years, as is the current highway map.

The review undertaken to examine the efficacy of creating an Intermodal Coordinating Council as an adjunct to the CTB indicates that there is no need to create an additional level of bureaucracy - a separate intermodal council - to facilitate Virginia's commitment to a fully integrated intermodal transportation system. Intermodal planning is conducted on an on-going basis within the Commonwealth Transportation Board's existing committee structure, and through the Secretary of Transportation's coordination of all state transportation agencies' activities. Nonetheless, the existing subcommittee structure of the Commonwealth Transportation Board could be reassessed. The existing Rail, Transit and HOV Committee could be specifically tasked as the advocate for intermodal projects, with the Access and Ground Transportation Committee providing additional support. If this is pursued, the Committee's name should be changed to reflect the change in emphasis.