From initial planning of the Interstate Highway System in the 1930s and 1940s through the national policy studies of the 1970s, forecasts of future demand for freight transportation substantially underestimated the subsequent growth in freight volumes and average lengths of haul. Among the consequences today are highways that are overwhelmed with trucks, the lack of rail capacity because of past abandonments, and a planning dilemma for sizing and pricing transportation infrastructure.
More recent national freight forecasts predict enormous increases in the demand for freight transportation over the next two decades. These substantially higher forecasts reflect recent trends, most notably the explosive growth in international trade. But, given the underestimation of freight demand by forecasters in the past, are the dire predictions of huge freight growth in the future any more likely to occur?
There is a need to consider the contributions of such factors as demographics, economics, environmental, technology, and public policy decisions to freight demand. A better understanding of the contributions of such factors, as well as their trends and interrelationships, will greatly improve the accuracy of future freight demand models; it may provide better estimates of how likely future freight demand will deviate from the forecasts; and might help identify leading indicators that should be tracked to anticipate freight demand shifts.
The objective of this research is to describe and analyze important demographic, economic, environmental, and other factors that may contribute to the future quantity; geographic distribution; temporal distribution of tons, ton miles, vehicle miles or train miles; and the value of freight to be moved in and through North America. The research will (1) identify the factors and estimate the direction and relative magnitude of the influence of each factor on freight demand; (2) identify whether the effects are international, national, regional, or local; (3) assess whether the factor and its effects on demand will continue in the near and long term; and (4) identify factors that should be monitored to detect major changes in trends in the demand for freight transportation, including supply interactions.