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Building an Intermodal Freight System that Connects Florida to the World

As South Florida sees an influx of business investment and economic growth, its systems and infrastructure for freight transport are being pushed into the spotlight. With multiple modes of transport—including air, sea, rail and road—management and planning can be a constantly changing puzzle. Anthony Abbate, director of Metro Lab at Florida Atlantic University, moderated SFBW’s recent panel discussion on freight movement in the region, and his expert guests weighed in on the challenges and opportunities the future brings.

If Abbate emphasized anything, it was that success in freight planning is contingent on getting stakeholders to work together: “The health of our economy depends on the effective and efficient movement of goods to support commercial and industrial activities,” he explained. “Freight planning involves partnerships between public and private sectors to minimize the effort and cost to get goods to businesses as well as residents and visitors throughout this region.”

With so many modes of transport, where does South Florida’s freight system begin? “The main facilities start with Port Everglades, which is our hub for where import/export is actually occurring,” said Greg Stuart, executive director of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization. “A lot of that freight is getting moved on trains, as well as trucks that are moving on our highway and local road systems.”

Among the port’s biggest advantages is its proximity to warehouses and rail distribution centers, according to Robert Ledoux, senior vice president and general counsel of Florida East Coast Railway. “That allows us to seamlessly move cargo in and out of the ports without hitting the main highways and roadways of Broward County,” he said. “The negative is when our trains are moving slow through downtown Fort Lauderdale, with the traffic jams and problems that creates for the motorist.”

An ongoing project to deepen and widen the port’s harbor will ramp up the volume of cargo that it processes while presenting a unique opportunity. When Port Everglades is finished around 2025, it will welcome post-Panamax ships, which carry as much as three times the cargo of Panamax ships (vessels designed to transit the Panama Canal). The additional freight will give both rail and trucking a chance to mitigate the imbalance between the state’s imports and exports.

“In Florida, since we don’t have as much as a manufacturing presence as other states, we have an imbalance of goods, with most goods coming from north to south to serve the South Florida market,” Ledoux continued. “But we have the capacity for loaded containers to come out of those post-Panamax ships and bring them north to serve the Atlanta and Charlotte markets and have Port Everglades be the first port of call instead of the last.”

The trucking system and its related infrastructure will also have to adapt to the additional volume, says Sabya Mishra, associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Memphis. “A large share of the commodities that are time-sensitive and need to reach their destination at a faster rate are typically carried by trucks,” Mishra said. “There is a need for the roads in terms of warehouses, distribution centers and land use.”

Yet one of the biggest problems with trucking is also one of the most basic: where to park. As with other segments of freight transportation, current and emerging technologies offer hope. “Truck GPS data gives us the position of the vehicles, so we can identify how long a vehicle is parked and get an indication of what parking lots are full and when,” Mishra said. “There’s also smart-park technology, which can visualize how many parking spots are available, so drivers know where to stop.”

Finally, the panelists addressed the oft-cited “last-mile problem,” in which goods are moved from distribution centers to the individual homes and businesses where they’re needed. Again, technology may offer the most promising solution.

“Our partners at Amazon and elsewhere are looking at locating warehouse facilities where they can throw the drone in the air with the freight, fly it to your front door, drop it off and move on,” Stuart said. “We’ve been doing horizontal planning now for years with the rail lines, roadways and seaport, but that vertical side of things is going to take over.”

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky

Editor-in-Chief

BIOGRAPHY

Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.