DOTD OFFICE OF MULTIMODAL COMMERCE
LMTA Follows OMC Developments for Commercial Trucking Industry
Tommy Clark, Commercial Trucking Director for the OMC | Photo by Cheryl Gerber
Recently Created by the Louisiana Legislature, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development’s (DOTD) Office of Multimodal Commerce (OMC) is charged with coordinating the state’s programs for Railroads, Ports, Aviation and most recently, Commercial Trucking.
“We’re kind of like the ‘development’ arm of the Department of Transportation and Development,” said OMC Commissioner Tommy Clark. “Anything that moves freight and commerce and cargo, we administer.”
With the creation of OMC and the addition of a Commercial Trucking Division, Louisiana’s trucking companies will now have a seat at the table when DOTD makes plans for Louisiana’s transportation systems.
Stephen Holliday is the new Commercial Trucking Director for the OMC, joining his counterparts five months ago in the divisions divisions for Aviation, Ports and Railroads. Holliday, an attorney having experience with the Louisiana Public Service Commission, helps oversee multimodal transportation issues and more specifically, those that affect commercial trucking.
Prior to 2016, commercial trucking issues were relegated to the Intermodal Division of the DOTD Office of Planning. Today, however, the OMC gives truckers a new voice, Holliday said during a recent interview with Open Road magazine at the sprawling DOTD headquarters building along Interstate 110 in Baton Rouge.
“Trucking is the first mile and the last mile connection,” Holliday said in explaining how important the trucking industry is to Louisiana’s economic development. “Every industry had a liaison, but we had nobody representing the trucking industry. It’s wonderful to have a seat at the table for commercial trucking.,”
Holliday describes his job as “regional, freight-based economic development.”
IN THE BEGINNING
The Office of Multimodal Commerce was created by the Louisiana Legislature in 2014 through Act 719, authored by Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma. In 2014, Chabert argued that DOTD was burdened by too much bureaucracy and needed a way to help the state capitalize on potential business opportunities.
“If we don’t have a department that acts in a synergistic way, we are going to miss this opportunity,” Chabert said at the time.
Fast forward to July 1, 2016, and Gov. John Bel Edwards appointed Clark as the first commissioner of the new office, saying the appointment “comes at a crucial time in our state as we deal with a backlog in transportation projects.”
“Sen. Chabert wanted to see greater collaboration between the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (LED) and DOTD,” Clark said. The commissioner’s job was at first designed to be a cabinet-level position, but the state constitution complicated that. There was discussion at the time about putting the multimodal commerce office in LED, but ultimately the legislature decided to place it in DOTD.
LMTA Executive Director Chance McNeely holds a seat on the Multimodal Commerce Advisory Commission, which exists to advise Commissioner Clark.
McNeely, who served as a Policy Advisor to Governor Jindal on transportation during the creation of the OMC and then served on the executive staff at DOTD as it became effective, said “It’s been great to be a part of the process in so many different capacities. I’m excited about the potential of the office and pleased with the direction that Tommy (Clark) is taking his team.” He also said that LMTA and OMC have the unique ability to serve as resources for one another.
Clark, whose previous work experience includes 25 years in the railroad industry and as a manager in the oil & gas industry, said one of his primary goals is to help LED attract new development to the state, either by providing transportation information to all parties ahead of a contract or assisting after the commitment has been made.
“Vital Freight Corridors”
Clark, former chairman of the I-49 North Funding and Feasibility Task Force, sees his job as a liaison of sorts between transportation and other industries. He cited the recent announcement that Formosa Petrochemical Corp. will build a $9.4 billion chemical manufacturing complex in St. James Parish.
“How many trucks are going to be involved in that?” Clark said. “Trucks play a major role,” and the state’s transportation infrastructure needs to meet the demand, he said.
Clark said port facilities along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans would constitute the “largest port in the world” if they were combined. It’s critical to coordinate the role of trucking with ports, airports and railroads, he said.
“You have to look at our vital freight corridors,” Clark said, to make sure the infrastructure demands can be met. “Where are the vital connections?”
As commissioner, Clark’s job is to provide information on the big picture, while Holliday is focused more on the role played by commercial trucking. The OMC collects and disseminates information on the truck driver shortage and other issues of importance to the trucking industry. Holliday said he will be working closely with the Louisiana Workforce Commission to come up with ways to attract drivers to the industry.
OMC Deputy Commissioner Phil Jones pointed out that another job of the new DOTD office is to help prevent transportation issues from turning into transportation problems. He cited roundabouts as an area that the OMC could have had an impact in the past.
“Had there been direct representation earlier on, the problems could have been mitigated,” Jones said. “Now we can come in before the problems occur and address those needs.”
While the OMC is trying to coordinate four transportation modes to create a fully integrated transportation system in Louisiana, it’s going to take time to get everyone on board, Clark said. Clark and others at OMC realize that it’s difficult to quantitatively measure progress towards that ultimate goal, but progress is being made.
“We’re still managing the culture change” from before the OMC, Clark said. “There is an embracing and a more ambitious approach. People are now coming to us and considering what information we have.”
“I brought an issues management approach” to the job, Clark said, adding each transportation sector has its own set of issues, most of which involve funding, or the lack thereof. “We have to identify what needs to happen to address those issues,” he said.
“There’s so much opportunity to leverage growth and make it more efficient,” Holliday said. Before the new office was created, trucking companies large and small “never had anybody they could call,” he said. “Now they can voice their concerns.”
The OMC should be seen as a resource to LMTA and the trucking industry, Clark added. “If new members are considering joining LMTA, they should know they have a valuable resource” in the OMC, Clark said.
The OMC has about two dozen workers in four divisions who report to Clark. Brad Brandt heads the Aviation Division, Randall Withers heads the Ports and Waterways Division, Holliday heads the Commercial Trucking Division and Dean Goodell heads the Freight and Passenger Rail Development Division.
In 2016, when announcing Clark’s selection as commissioner of the OMC, Gov. Edwards said the Office of Multimodal Commerce was formed “to enhance the state’s focus on multimodal transportation.” Clark and his office “will also help make the case for broad and diverse funding solutions…to address the state’s pressing infrastructure needs,” the governor said.
DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson said at the time that he wanted to see the office “help strengthen the connection between commerce and modal infrastructure that will translate to economic development wins for Louisiana.”
The OMC is located at 1201 Capitol Access Road in Baton Rouge. Holliday can be reached at 225-379-3035.
For more information on the DOTD Office of Multimodal Commerce,
For more information on the Commercial Trucking Division of the OMC,