Multimodal Freight Transportation Research Roadmap

As outlined in the U.S. DOT’s 30-year plan, Beyond Traffic, the nation’s ability to compete in global markets and to meet the needs and expectations of consumers and industry depends on a robust multimodal freight transportation system and agile and efficient supply chains. Rural communities, cities, and metropolitan areas rely on supply chains, and the supporting freight transportation systems, to send and receive vast amount of supplies needed by local economies. For example, freight-intensive-sectors (e.g., manufacturing, wholesale, retail, food, accommodation) – for which the production and/or consumption of supplies are an essential part of their business – represent 45% of the establishments and 50% of the employment in the United States.  Inefficient supply chains will have a negative effect on all of them, hampering economic activity. Furthermore, the freight system is under serious strain, with roads, railways, and airports becoming increasingly congested and increasingly aging.
Market and technological trends are impacting freight activity patterns in numerous ways, both globally and locally.  International trade is increasing, global manufacturing centers are shifting, and trade routes are changing.  Firms are driving down logistics costs through just-in-time shipping.  Online shopping is increasing demand for home delivery of consumer products, especially in dense urban environments.  Retailers, faced with new mobile computing consumer buying behavior, are experimenting with a wide range of new transportation options for last mile delivery. Intermodal freight shipped in containers via ships, trains, and trucks is continuing to grow. Surging domestic energy production is straining infrastructure in oil production regions.  In the next 30 years, changes in freight demand, shipping, manufacturing, logistics, technology, and energy production are poised to transform the economics of transportation yet again. By 2045, freight volume will increase 45% from current levels.
The increasing congestion in metropolitan areas is a major threat to the U.S. economy. About 80% of the freight transported in the U.S. has its origin or destination at one of the top 100 metropolitan areas, reflecting that the bulk of manufacturing is produced in metropolitan areas, and in turn, increases congestion and emissions in these areas. Taking into account the surge in Internet orders in the last several years, it is almost certain that deliveries to households now generate more freight trips than deliveries to commercial establishments.
At the same time, a host of new technologies and operational practices are transforming freight transportation systems and supply chains. Smart City technologies, truck platooning, autonomous trucks, drones, 3D printing, delivery crowdsourcing, and others are already making their mark. As an example, 3D printing may lead to decentralization of manufacturing and to the development of on-demand manufacturing, resulting in unforeseen demands on road infrastructure because of the growth in small truck freight trip generation.
There is a need to better understand the current and anticipated future freight trends to provide transportation agencies with the information they need to develop strategic plans. More specifically, research is needed to gain insight into how market and technological trends could impact transportation systems, safety, and the environment. Conducting research, with the collaboration of other stakeholders, that identifies, designs, pilot tests, and leads to the adoption of effective public sector freight initiatives, will help transportation agencies achieve their goals.
The objective of this project is to develop a dynamic 5- to 10-year multimodal freight research roadmap. The roadmap should emphasize problem statements with a scope and budget appropriate for NCHRP, but can include problem statements that are more suitable for other public, private, or academic research institutions or programs.  The research roadmap should clearly define a portfolio of initiatives that will advance the knowledge and capabilities of transportation decision makers.  The research roadmap should include, but not be limited to: (1) end-to-end emphasis (i.e., consider the research needs of all modes and stages of freight activity, from gateways, to corridors, to local deliveries); (2) identifying and assessing the impacts of social, technological, economic, environmental, and political trends on freight transportation systems and policies; (3) enhancing public sector decision-making capabilities (i.e., the research roadmap should lead to the development of new tools or methods and ways to gather necessary data for public agencies to make decisions that improve freight system performance); (4) expanding and deepening public sector knowledge (i.e., the research roadmap should contain projects that enhance the public sector’s understanding of the behavior of the agents involved in freight, and the best ways to influence them to improve freight system performance); and (5) addressing institutional issues (i.e., analyzing current and potential barriers to preventing improved freight transportation systems that could increase economic efficiency and productivity, foster sustainability, enhance livability, quality of life, and environmental justice).
The research roadmap should include: (1) a prioritized portfolio of problem statements, most of which should address the research gaps in a format and at a level of detail suitable for submission to NCHRP; (2) a detailed description and justification of how this portfolio addresses the five objective criteria; (3) an assessment of key gaps and needs that could be addressed through research and how this portfolio addresses these gaps; and (4) a dynamic communications concept (including format, platform, frequency, distribution channels, budget, and editorial and technical content) that could be widely distributed to keep practitioners informed of emerging issues affecting freight transportation.
Status: Submitted to the AASHTO Special Committee on Freight.

Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 1: Scenario Planning for Freight Transportation Infrastructure Investment

TRB’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 750: Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 1: Scenario Planning for Freight Transportation Infrastructure Investment analyzes the driving forces behind high-impact economic and social changes as well as sourcing patterns that may affect the U.S. freight transportation system. The report also introduces scenario planning as a tool that can be used in conjunction with other planning methods to improve the quality of long-range transportation infrastructure planning.

Four future scenarios were developed as part of the project that created NCHRP Report 750, as well as a detailed methodology that planners can follow to conduct their own scenario planning workshops. The scenarios and methodology are included in a DVD format with the print version of the report.

The DVDs are also available for download from TRB’s website as ISO images. Links to the ISO images and instructions for burning a DVD from an ISO image are provided below.

Help on Burning an .ISO DVD Image

Download the .ISO DVD Image 1: Data
Download the .ISO DVD Image 2: Videos
(Warning: These are very large files–more than 1.3 GB each–and may take about an hour to download using a high-speed connection.)

A detailed discussion of the driving forces analyzed in NCHRP Report 750, Volume 1 is contained in NCHRP Web-Only Document 195: Driving Forces Influencing Future Freight Flows.

NCHRP Report 750, Volume 1 is the first in a series of reports being produced by NCHRP Project 20-83: Long-Range Strategic Issues Facing the Transportation Industry. Major trends affecting the future of the United States and the world will dramatically reshape transportation priorities and needs. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) established the NCHRP Project 20-83 research series to examine global and domestic long-range strategic issues and their implications for state departments of transportation (DOTs); AASHTO’s aim for the research series is to help prepare the DOTs for the challenges and benefits created by these trends.

Other volumes in this series currently available include:
• NCHRP Report 750: Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 2: Climate Change, Extreme Weather Events, and the Highway System: Practitioner’s Guide and Research Report
• NCHRP Report 750: Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 3: Expediting Future Technologies for Enhancing Transportation System Performance
• NCHRP Report 750: Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 4: Sustainability as an Organizing Principle for Transportation Agencies
• NCHRP Report 750: Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 5: Preparing State Transportation Agencies for an Uncertain Energy Future
• NCHRP Report 750: Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 6: The Effects of Socio-Demographics on Future Travel Demand

Freight Transportation Research Needs Statements, E-Circular 048

TRB Transportation Research Circular E-C048: Freight Transportation Research Needs Statements identifies critical issues in freight transportation as a resource for researchers in the freight area and serves as a seedbed for further discussion and analysis from a wider cross-section of freight practitioners.