Aerotropolis or Multi-Modal Hub -There Is a Difference

Michael Gallis
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Michael Gallis

Michael Gallis, principal of Michael Gallis & Associates, specializes in developing integrated multisystem approaches to strategic planning for clients throughout the world. Gallis' methodology encompasses the forces, dynamics and relationships that shape the world, nations, states and metropolitan regions.

Globalization of the economy has made every metropolitan area a competitor in the world economy. Strengthening access to world markets has consequently become a primary issue because areas with greater access have a distinct advantage over those with less access. In addition, changes in business and manufacturing (e.g., mass customization replacing mass standardization) together with new information technology have created new demands for a more reliable, less costly transportation system.

One response has been the development of the Aerotropolis concept. It advocates developing interconnected business parks and efficient road grids adjacent to airports. Immediate and direct access to the airport facilitates air-oriented and related businesses, which attracts new businesses to the larger region.

In contrast, the Multi-Modal Hub concept promotes using the airport to link all modes of transportation - freight rail, interstates, transit and seaports - with air transport to form a multi-dimensional development complex focused on office, industrial and distribution activities.

The Multi-Modal Hub concept strives to strengthen synergies between transportation modes to improve all levels of access, allowing metropolitan areas to serve as both consolidation and distribution points in the new global network. Focusing on a single mode can bring benefits to that mode but traditionally overlooks important synergies created by linking to other modes. The Multi-Modal Hub is based on creating new, non-traditional relationships between modes and economic development activities.

The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission (1) inspired new discussion about whether or not national priorities should be based on more effectively moving people and freight through the transportation system rather than the traditional mode-specific focus. The commission made it clear that we don't need more roads or airports; we need greater efficiency in the national pattern of throughput for goods and people within a multi-modal network.

Long before the commission made its recommendations, the Multi-Modal Hub concept recognized that the efficient throughput of people and freight required linking all modes and consolidating ancillary services at the airport (i.e., Customs, post offices and third- and fourth-party logistics). This not only builds an entirely new and more efficient platform for moving passengers and freight, it also provides significant transportation and environmental benefits by removing the dray traffic between modes from the metro grid.

Concentrating all modes in one place also reduces costs. Security, for instance, could be integrated so personnel could quickly and easily shift among modal facilities. Delays from major accidents and inclement weather could also be mitigated with the transportation hub concept, as companies and passengers could easily shift modes depending upon conditions. The ability to shift goods between modes depending on schedule has never been more important for freight movement. New demands for customized products has collapsed delivery time to the point where just-in-time delivery has become as important as on-time delivery.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport pioneered the Multi-Modal Hub concept in the early 1990s. It was an unlikely prototype because Charlotte, NC, was not a major transportation center despite having an FAA-designated major air hub. However, strengthening access to world markets was a major goal of the city's economic development strategy.

While developing a strategic plan for the airport, my firm found that Charlotte Douglas International is located along the main line of the Norfolk Southern Railroad, linking Atlanta to the Northeast, with spurs to the ports of Charleston, Savannah and Norfolk. It is also located at the crossroads of I-85, a major East Coast corridor, and I-77, which connects the Atlantic to the Midwest. Further research revealed that truck terminals, railyards and ancillary services were scattered throughout the metropolitan area, generating a significant amount of truck traffic through the metropolitan grid.

The airport's strategic development plan includes provisions to link these modes and ancillary services into a more efficient, multi-modal transportation hub together with a plan to develop multi-dimensional business parks on available land surrounding the airport. Using the airport as a principal point of linkage creates a platform for surrounding business parks and provides access to businesses and institutions spread throughout the metropolitan area. Though still in development, Charlotte Douglas International is positioning itself to become the most efficient Multi-Modal Hub on the East Coast of North America and an important competitive tool in the global competition for economic activity.

1 National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, 2007. Transportation for Tomorrow. Washington DC: NSTPRSC.

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