New monitors for your home office? Food for your dog? As many experienced throughout the pandemic, the trucking industry is an important part of the economy because it helps transport raw material and finished goods to customers and businesses in an efficient and timely manner. By pressing “place order” on your phone and waiting a few days — in some cases, just hours — your delivery would arrive at your home.

As reliance on at-home deliveries increased, so did the realization that any delay in delivery or a road safety concern could cause significant economic consequences for industries, small businesses and other critical elements of the supply chain. How can state departments of transportation, tolling agencies, engineers and policymakers avoid these delays and provide high levels of road transportation service to some of their biggest users? Turn to the trucking and logistics specialists — the industry. Engaging with trucking industry stakeholders at every stage of a project can help design robust projects that will serve the overall needs of the industry, and subsequently, the economy.

Trucking is a $790 billion industry that few members of the general public understand. Trucking companies have a range of specialties. Some are dedicated to hauling heavy loads, such as machinery. Others are focused on port operations. These two sectors have different, but often aligned, interests, and individuals at those companies are specialists.

When engaging stakeholders on a transportation project, it helps to interact with a cross-section of trucking sectors to understand the needs of various types of carriers. When the Eastern Transportation Coalition decided to explore the feasibility of replacing the fuel tax with mileage-based user fees, it began conducting real-world pilots. Our team worked alongside the coalition to engage multiple sectors of the trucking industry, including truckload carriers, private fleets, small and large fleets, owner-operators, general commodities haulers and refrigerated carriers. To fully understand the trade-offs of a mileage-based user fee policy, the coalition determined that this level of multisector engagement was crucial. To enhance engagement from the trucking industry, the coalition’s recruiting efforts target various sectors of trucking for their mileage-based user fee pilots to generate compelling data from carriers with complex operations and various business models. The coalition also hosts a motor carrier working group consisting of a cross-section of trucking stakeholders to discuss results of the pilot and learn from specialists in the industry.

In another project, Burns & McDonnell is conducting a comprehensive safety assessment for the Kansas Turnpike. The effort includes surveys and stakeholder interviews of users, partner organizations and internal staff. During the trucking industry stakeholder interviews, the project team interviewed truck drivers, safety professionals for less-than-truckload and tank truck carriers, and operations professionals responsible for the efficient movement of freight. Each of these individuals brought a novel perspective to the interview, commenting on anything from the turnpike’s major infrastructure investments to road maintenance and work zone management to signage and severe weather preparedness. The safety assessment also involves using quantitative data to understand the safety outcomes of the turnpike and make recommendations. Speaking directly with trucking industry stakeholders in a formal setting allowed the project team to gut-check those recommendations, discover new angles to look at the data and validate stakeholders' assumptions.

Project teams working on road transportation projects can check a box by speaking to one trucking representative and getting his or her input on the project. But project teams who want to work on customer-informed projects with industry support should engage with trucking professionals up and down the organizational charts and across multiple sectors of the industry.

People are the ones who run an industry and every individual at any hierarchy in an organization has something to share that can bring clarity, data and real-world experience to a project. The trucking industry is no different. Involving industry stakeholders early and throughout the process can aid in building an inclusive and transparent environment to deliver successful projects.

 

Learn more about stakeholder management, successful public engagement best practices and how to cultivate relationships throughout the life of projects.

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Drew Mitrisin is a staff public involvement specialist at Burns & McDonnell. He specializes in strategic communication, transportation, water and trucking policy, as well as internal and external stakeholder engagement.