The National Academies

NCHRP 08-36/Task 65 [Final]

Best Practices for Incorporating Commodity Flow Survey and Related Data into the MPO and Statewide Planning Processes
[ NCHRP 08-36 (Research for the AASHTO Standing Committee on Planning) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $75,000
Research Agency: AECOM Consulting Transportation Group
Effective Date: 7/14/2006
Completion Date: 8/8/2010
Comments: Final Report sent to AASHTO

Freight movement and the implications of future growth in freight due to global trends in trade is a significant transportation issue to local, regional, and state transportation planning agencies. The Commodity Flow Survey (CFS) conducted by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau is the primary public data source on commodity movements in the U.S. To date, the CFS has been conducted five times, in 1993, 1997, and 2002. However, each time the CFS has been conducted the sample size has been reduced by half; from 200,000 shipments in 1993, to 100,000 in 1997, to 50,000 in 2002.
Recently the Transportation Research Board sponsored a 2-day conference on the topic of the CFS in Boston. Several of the specific objectives of the conference were to:
  • Provide a more comprehensive understanding of the users and uses of the CFS data, in the areas of policy development and transportation planning at the federal, state and local levels;
  • Obtain feedback and input from the conference participants on the uses of CFS data and its perceived strengths and weaknesses;
  • Explore how data from other data sources could be used to calibrate and supplement the CFS.[1]
Key conclusion among researchers and users who presented during sessions highlighting state and local uses of the CFS were:
  •  CFS currently provides valuable freight information to states and local planners that is not readily available from other sources, but CFS data by itself is not adequate to answer the freight questions being demanded by decision makers.
  • The value of CFS data can be enhanced when used with other sources, but differing commodity classification schemes require conversion efforts
  • The CFS is not detailed enough for project level use or as a direct input to travel demand models
Based on prior research paper submissions to the TRB, there appears to exist a wide body of researchers and practitioners that have experience using CFS data in a variety of formats. This project catalogued previous studies and research efforts that have used CFS data, and documented how the CFS was enhanced to meet those users needs.  It also developed a “how to guide” for future users of the CFS. This CFS “users guide” discusses the best practices for CFS data enhancements for various categories of planning projects.

The final report is available


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