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Multimodal Freight Transportation Research Roadmap

Start Date: May 2017
Funding: American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (ASHTO) - in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration - conducted in the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP)
Project Budget: $75,000
Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Anne GoodchildDr. Ed McCormack

The Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics (SCTL) Center and the Texas Transportation Institute are supporting development of the dynamic 5-to-10-year Multimodal Freight Transportation Research Roadmap, under the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) 20-114 project. The National Freight Research Roadmap recommends a prioritized portfolio of initiatives to advance the knowledge and capabilities of transportation decisionmakers. This roadmap outlines the research themes and research projects that comprise a 5- to 10-year strategic research agenda. It describes the research activities that formed the outreach to relevant stakeholders and presents the findings of those activities. To develop the roadmap, the Urban Freight Lab conducted three outreach activities: expert interviews, online survey, and workshops.

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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.