National Academies Press: OpenBook

Critical Issues in Transportation 2019 (2018)

Chapter: Institutional and Workforce Capacity

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Page 25
Suggested Citation:"Institutional and Workforce Capacity." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Critical Issues in Transportation 2019. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25314.
Page 25

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fly packages to suburban and rural areas and robots that operate on urban streets and sidewalks. How can policy makers anticipate, monitor, plan for, and regulate such potentially revolutionary changes? 53. Trucks in the United States dominate freight logistics costs130 and move almost three-quarters of the value of domestic and international freight and about 60 percent of the total tonnage.131 The enormity of the trucking industry has pervasive influences on national economic efficiency, modal competition, safety, and the environment. Regulation of the size and weight of trucks may seem to be a mundane subject, but it becomes vitally important when commercial interests press regularly for increased truck sizes and weights at both the state and national levels. Past analyses of proposed changes in truck size and weight have foundered due to lack of both data and robust technical tools for estimating their impacts.132 What evidence will inform decisions by public officials to make the substantial investments in the tools, models, and data required to understand the ramifications of changes in truck size and weight regulations? 54. Ocean carriers continue to exert formidable pressure on seaports and trade corridors to keep pace with the economies of scale realized by megavessels that carry 20,000 containers or more. These vessels require deeper channels, more efficient port terminals, and hinterland intermodal capacity and connectivity to accommodate short-term surges in demand, which in turn demands massive infrastructure funding. To what degree is this sustainable and what should the public sector’s role be in reacting to these pressures from world trade and shipping? 55. Despite the need to move away from fossil fuels, until more sustainable options are widely available, the nation will continue to rely on fossil fuel sources, particularly domestically produced petroleum and natural gas. Moving petroleum by truck, as well as moving commodities to support fracking, can do major damage to parts of the transportation system that are aging or inadequate from a structural or a capacity standpoint to handle the movements of these heavy products. Moving petroleum by rail raises many concerns to those communities exposed to such traffic. How can these issues be planned for and addressed? How can expanded domestic energy production be distributed to consumers in a manner that best serves the public interest?133 Institutional and Workforce Capacity The ability of transportation agencies to address the challenges highlighted in this report depends heavily on the capabilities of their workforces. Local and state transportation agency staff are struggling to address transformational changes and disruptions, but often without adequate financial and technical resources to meet their needs. Transportation funding for local and state agencies has been tightly constrained in most jurisdictions for more than a decade. Moreover, as transportation systems become more technologically complex, the future workforce will need higher skill levels in fields such as information technology (IT), as well as diverse disciplinary perspectives, to address increasingly complex social and environmental issues. The challenge for all levels of government is how to attract, train, and retain enough people with a broad and diverse set of needed skills when the wages offered cannot match those of the private sector.134 As agencies increasingly rely on private providers, another problem to address is how to ensure that public agency staff have the requisite skills to manage contractors. These familiar challenges are becoming increasingly difficult to address given the pace of technological change and the scale of climate change. 56. Agencies at all levels are being pressed to address the challenges of growing and shifting population and transportation demand, rapid technological change, and climate change. Even as the problems become more complex, the institutions themselves lack the resources and technical capacity to address them. A lack of expertise and skill is most acute in local governments, which rarely have the savvy to negotiate with TNCs, the expertise to address the ramifications of climate change, or simply critical issues in transportation 2019 25

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and equity issues will be included soon in

Critical Issues in Transportation 2019

. In this report, which is updated periodically by the TRB Executive Committee, a series of challenging questions are posed to explore issues and opportunities that may arise 10 to 20 years into the future. These questions, 63 in all, have been organized into 12 topic areas and provide a way to frame future areas of research, policy analysis, and debate.

Critical issues identified in this report deserve attention because of transportation’s central role in serving individuals and society. This document serves to sharpen society's collective understanding of transportation and its ramifications, while informing decisions by individual citizens and officials in both the public and private sectors. The issues have been identified and documented from a U.S. perspective, and are also common across developed nations.

Download the executive overview, Critical Issues in Transportation: Policy Snapshot and or visit from your mobile device.

On March 5, 2019, TRB and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) cohosted a webinar that covered TRB’s Critical Issues in Transportation 2019 report and the 2019-2020 NTSB’s Most Wanted List. Presenters focused on issues of safety and security across all modes of transportation.

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