Semisequicentennial Transportation Conference Proceedings
May 1996, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa

The Process in Developing Intermodal Freight Strategies

Mark Kenneally

JBM Engineers & Planners,
4600 Madison Avenue,
Suite 500, Kansas City,
Missouri 64112.

The economic well being of the Kansas City region depends in great part upon the reliable and efficient movement of freight and goods between producers and markets. To facilitate this movement and to ensure that Kansas City remains a vital transportation hub, local, regional, and state governments in 1994 launched a major study of the area's intermodal resources—"intermodal" meaning the shipment of freight by various methods of transport, including rail, air, water, and roadway. This study was sparked by the need for the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) to fully integrate freight considerations into its overall metropolitan transportation planning process, as well as an outgrowth from the Chamber's July 1993 Inland Port/Intermodal Task Force Report, which recommended that industry-specific analysis, trends, and technologies be examined. The objectives of the study were to identify the economic components of freight transportation, promote the economic development of freight transportation, develop marketing strategies that enhance the region's position, identify and prioritize infrastructure improvements, provide a framework for comprehensive ISTEA planning, and be sensitive to environmental issues. Seven tasks were undertaken to get a better idea of the Kansas City region's intermodal freight environment. These tasks were to inventory existing freight facilities and assets; analyze current and projected commodity flows; collect industry/user input; assess economic impacts/benefits of intermodal freight activity; analyze regional advantages, liabilities, and opportunities; identify current and future infrastructure needs; and prepare a strategic plan for meeting those needs.


As many times as intermodal freight transportation is discussed, one knows that the term intermodal is not a household word. What then is an intermodal freight strategies study? For Kansas City, it was multimodal—involving rail, truck, air, and water freight movement. It was multijurisdictional and, consequently, multigeographical—consisting of local cities and the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and both the Missouri and Kansas state transportation departments. The areas studied vary from the regional ten counties to the 37 counties of the Business Economic Area (BEA), from the state level and from the Midwest or Central region level. It was a multiparticipatory process that utilized an outreach program through newsletters, brochures and surveys, and consisted of monthly meetings with an Inland Port/Intermodal Task Force. It was multidisciplinary as our own team consists of engineering, planning, economic, market research, and public relations professionals. The conclusion of this study is not at an end but a beginning. The conclusion recommends a process to continue the work that has been already been started. This study and its previous efforts have been a process. The process has taken time, money, and the efforts of many people—it didn't happen overnight.

In the past five years market trends have had a distinct influence on the trading relationships between countries, specifically with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Also a resurgence in rail freight transportation has occurred nationwide. At the same time, state, regional, and local transportation agencies were attempting to fully understand the implications of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). What was meant by intermodal? How did it apply to the respective transportation agency? And what information was available? Many agencies grapple with these questions in preparing an Intermodal Management System (IMS) for their jurisdiction. Another dimension that ISTEA added was the empowerment of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in preparing an IMS at the regional level and having the intermodal management system built up from the local level. Often the most an MPO knows about freight transportation is the percentage of trucks on major highways. Yet the intermodal or multimodal components of ISTEA require that MPOs deal with divergent issues such as bicycle and pedestrian issues as well as freight mobility.

One aspect that makes Kansas City unique is the state line bisecting Missouri and Kansas. Often, one doesn't realize the boundary between the two states, and some are unaware that there are two cities of Kansas City. From a political and jurisdictional perspective, it was necessary that the region be viewed as a whole for this intermodal study. From the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) and Missouri Highway and Transportation Department (MHTD), each state's IMS needed the freight information provided at a state level. There were local government interests including the Cities of Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, and Johnson County, Kansas. Consequently, it was important to have a setting in which to bring all of the jurisdictional agencies together. The regional MPO encompassing ten counties within the bi-state region and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce served that function.

Early on in the establishment of the study, it was recognized that communication amongst the parties, and in particular the freight transportation industry, was necessary. In an effort to create awareness of the study and its intent, as well as to prepare industry for future survey questions, introductory brochures and a newsletter were prepared. While public agencies and other transportation professionals are well acquainted with ISTEA, the majority of local freight transportation providers and users are not. Even determining who to send information was important because the input of both freight users and providers is necessary to get the total transportation picture. Manufacturers and industrial suppliers are key components in the equation, as we learned, even more so in the development of strategies.

While the brochures and newsletter were preparing industry representatives for the surveys, no one was prepared for the initial response. The classic case is a firm who said the intermodal survey didn't apply to them. When questioned about how they move goods, they answered "we take it off a train and put it on a truck." Eureka! The meaning of intermodal was discovered. A concerted personalized effort was made to reach industry, by telephoning and following up with surveys. Also, a speaking bureau campaign was undertaken to reach local industrial groups and transportation associations to educate about the meaning of intermodal.

It became clearer over time that the intense competition between freight transportation brokers in the Kansas City region raised some suspicions of the intent of the study. Some parties participated to find out "what the other guy was going to get," while others were concerned about government interference in private business. It was hard to make the freight industry understand that local, regional, and state governments were truly interested in learning about freight transportation needs and were willing to make commitments to improve the freight transportation system. Interestingly enough, the issue of freight infrastructure improvements was of lesser priority to industry than two other issues: industrial manufacturing and the promotion of the region's quality freight transportation services.

Significant resources were assigned to the inventory of freight facilities and their routes and linkages, as well as to understanding the origin, destination, volume, and commodity of goods moved in the region. This information, though, has only limited appeal to the freight industry. Why? Because industry already knows this. It's their business to know it. However, this information is entirely new to the public agencies. But information on freight flows changes rapidly. The currently available information from national sources is seemingly stale, being a few years old when initially collected. Considering the recent global marketing trends, the information is a better indicator of where you've been than where you're going. And while the freight flow data is important to collect and understand, its ability to translate into infrastructure improvements is limited. The surveys indicated that the number-one infrastructure priority was to maintain the existing transportation system. This same issue of ongoing maintenance had been previously recognized by the Chamber and other agencies.

Small groups of survey respondents were brought together in a series of roundtable discussions to hear their views. While the majority of the participants praised the study efforts, the anticipated emphasis of the study shifted from infrastructure improvements to an economic development and a promotional or marketing plan. These components of economic activity and marketing were part of the study, yet their importance and direct relationship to the freight transportation industry were not fully recognized until listening to the freight community.

Direct communications with providers of freight transportation also showed an interesting phenomenon: that often one mode of freight transportation knew little or nothing about another mode. After getting the roundtable discussions started, it was often hard to keep participants from talking about doing business together. It seemed almost as if simply getting freight modes together would help facilitate the movement of goods more efficiently.

Freight transportation providers contributed insights into the cost effectiveness of the business and the means to increase that effectiveness. A major issue for cost effectiveness is the balance of goods movement. If a load comes to Kansas City and goes back out loaded, it's a lot more efficient than a load that comes in and goes out empty. In other words, if there is value added to inbound commodities or there is material manufactured that is ready to ship out, then the volume increases and the costs decrease. Consequently, the connection to economic development, and not just any type of economic development but an industrially based economic development, became an important linkage for overall freight cost effectiveness.

Another major issue with the freight community was the lack of public importance placed upon the freight transportation system and the distribution opportunities afforded from the central location of Kansas City to the Midwest region to nation and to the emerging opportunities with trade between Mexico and Canada. These issues of industrial economic development and marketing became some of the guiding principles of the freight strategies.

With the assistance of a local transportation club, The Kansas City Transportation Association, a freight strategies conference was held to present preliminary strategies to industry leaders. A panel of freight providers from air, water, rail, and trucking modes, as well as public transportation officials, was assembled to comment upon the preliminary strategies. At this time, national freight transportation professionals were asked to participate and to offer a broader perspective. The Intermodal Council of the American Trucking Association and the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) provided insights into the national trends and approaches to freight transportation planning. Many of the local strategies were consistent with the national ideals of increased efficiency in moving freight.

Our strategies focused upon the need to create a Freight Alliance, with a membership drawn from the many elements of the freight industry and ancillary businesses, as well as a Freight Authority, an entity granted power to implement recommendations of an alliance, to secure and assign funding, and to present a policy agenda. Through these freight representatives actions could be initiated with the governmental agencies in a public/private partnership on such issues as freight transportation infrastructure. There was also the need to spread the good word about Kansas City's freight transportation system and attract new industries. Comments on the strategies recognized the need to continue the process that had already begun. Our tasks of preparing a strategic plan and freight infrastructure recommendations offered the opportunity to do just that.

The National Highway System (NHS) now designates intermodal connections to terminals and facilities. With the recent guidelines on how to determine if a roadway met the necessary qualifications, a series of intermodal connections across the two cities of Kansas City and the two states were established. This action of determining intermodal connections was viewed as a public action to assist the freight community. To government it provided a relationship between streets and highways and also helped to add a sense of place to the intermodal terminals. While many public officials knew the major rail yards and their location, many did not know where the intermodal yards were located. In fact finding the access points to the intermodal terminals was difficult. However, this need for education and the difficulty in locating terminals was the inspiration for a bi-state highway sign.

The sign, with a logo depicting an intermodal box with highway and rail connections, as well as barge and air modes, will be placed along the major access routes to the intermodal terminals, namely the identified NHS intermodal connections. The sign will provide guidance and direction to truckers locating the terminals, and will create an awareness among the public of what an "intermodal terminal" is. The sign also exemplifies bi-state cooperation. A series of Jump Start roadway improvements have been identified to improve truck turning radii, remove congestion points, increase safety and visibility, improve capacity, and improve traffic signal operations at ten locations throughout the region near the intermodal terminals.

Now, seemingly at the end of the strategy development process, Kansas City has been selected as one of the few cities nationwide to participate in the Freight Stakeholders Coalition. This Coalition, part of a national alliance of shippers, manufacturers, and freight transportation providers, chose Kansas City because of its seminal role in fostering partnerships, initiating dialogue, and recognizing the role of freight transportation to the community, the region, and the country. Mr. George Powell, president of Yellow Freight System, the largest publicly held LTL (less than truckload) transportation firm in America headquartered in the Kansas City region, chairs the Heartland Freight Stakeholders Coalition. This announcement at the home of Alexander Majors, the founder of the Pony Express, continues the long and outstanding tradition Kansas City has in the movement of goods. The intermodal freight strategies are now just the beginning of the implementation plan. The strategies put forth are actually happening.

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