The nation’s freight infrastructure is well established and mature but overburdened. Dramatically increasing congestion inflicts costs on shippers, consumers, and the environment. Evolving technologies, growing demand, changing business practices, shifting patterns of commerce, and government policies designed to address environmental and other public concerns have impact on system performance. Because expansions to the system are often complicated and expensive, both private-sector firms and public policymakers try to find operational improvements, organizational changes, or other low-cost and quickly implementable ways to address freight-system mobility constraints. Both the public and private sectors benefit from such solutions that make the best use of the existing system. However, efforts to improve system capacity may sometimes have unanticipated consequences when users or supply chains react in unexpected ways; for example, traffic diversions caused by a new highway toll charge may exceed planners’ projections when large numbers of trucks operated by smaller companies choose alternate routes to avoid out-of-pocket expenses. Research is needed to develop widely acceptable methods for identifying and evaluating low-cost and quickly implementable ways to address freight-system mobility constraints and their potential contribution to improving the nation’s freight system.
The objectives of this project are to (a) develop a more standardized description of the dimensions of the freight system (e.g., elements of each mode and across modes, stakeholders, types of mobility constraints) that will help improve communication among freight-system decisionmakers and stakeholders and facilitate examination of freight-system mobility constraints and the operational practices or system enhancements used to address these constraints; (b) analyze explicitly the business practices and institutional factors that influence freight-system decisionmakers and stakeholders as they respond to freight-system mobility constraints and regulatory and other public policy initiatives; (c) develop a methodology that private- and public-sector decisionmakers can use to identify, categorize, and evaluate quickly implementable, low-cost capital, operational, and public policy actions that can enhance freight mobility by addressing system constraints; and (d) apply that methodology in a generic way to create a catalog of actions that may be most useful in addressing the nation’s freight-system mobility constraints.