We’ve been talking a lot about the future of freight. And while in many cases the future is now, we still have a long way to go before we see truly smart highways interacting with truly smart trucks. But can we glean some information on what the future of trucking looks like by evaluating what is happening today?
In this first look, we will examine the future of freight infrastructure. Whether it be through a new bridge crossing the Bering Sea or a series of truly connected highways, tomorrow’s infrastructure may look very different from what we are used to seeing today.
The Necessity for Change
You’re probably thinking one thing: How in the heck are we going to build out expensive smart highways if we can’t even fund a simple highway bill? And that is certainly a valid question. But perhaps the answer will be foisted upon us by force, as opposed to by choice.
The fact is, over the next 11 years, freight tonnage is predicted to increase by over 28 percent. Technology will certainly have to play a role in preparing the nation’s infrastructure for this large increase in demand.
If the nation’s roads and highways are due for a major upgrade anyway, why not include some fancy new technologies as part of the deal? As nations become more interconnected, this mere pondering may become an immediate reality.
A Global Highway System
As the United States struggles with what should be an automatic task – highway funding – other nations are forging ahead. It appears we may be entering the era of mega-projects. There are currently four primary bridge projects under review that could connect countries in ways previously thought inconceivable.
One such project, involving the Pan-American Highway, proposes a 25-mile bridge spanning the Darien Gap. Connecting that stretch could potentially double the size of the trucking industry. It would be the final link in connecting the 30,000-mile route that stretches from Alaska to Argentina.
Other projects under review include a Gibraltar bridge that would connect Europe with Africa, a bridge connecting Japan and Korea, and the aforementioned bridge across the Bearing Sea. These projects could have huge implications for the trucking industry.
Consider that the United States already has one of the most advanced factory-farming industries in the world. Could we see – sometime in the next 30 to 40 years – a truck leave a U.S. farm loaded with grain and drive all the way to Siberia?
The Panama Canal
With the Panamanian government set to unveil a new shipping channel in the Panama Canal, expect to see a sharp increase in ship capacities. These new “panamax” ships will have capacities in excess of 12,000 TEUs, and will be able to reach certain parts of the East coast for the very first time.
The impact of the canal’s $5-billion expansion is set to be big. It will usher in a new era of ocean freight for parts all up and down the eastern seaboard and on the gulf coast. Experts project port activity could increase by anywhere from 10 to 25 percent across-the-board.
And while it will take some time for the effects of the new shipping channel to work their way through the system, the potential for trucking is unmistakable. Any increase in sea lane shipping will undoubtedly require more trucking capacity.
The Final Word on Smart Infrastructure
Sure, we’ve been talking about big projects and increased capacity, but how about those fancy highways and smart roads? Could we really see the day electronic beacons are built into guardrails warning vehicles when they get too close?
It may seem far-fetched, considering we can barely keep our roads free of potholes, let alone filled with fancy sensors. But over the long term, smart infrastructure that communicates with smart vehicles will become vital.
Will it be enough to fix congestion problems and truly enter us into the era of smart infrastructure and sustainable development? Only time will tell.