The National Academies

NCHRP 20-83(01) [Final]

Economic Changes Driving Future Freight Transportation
[ NCHRP 20-83 (Long-Range Strategic Issues Facing the Transportation Industry) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $1,000,000
Research Agency: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Principal Investigator: Christopher Caplice
Effective Date: 10/21/2009
Completion Date: 7/31/2012
Comments: Published as NCHRP Report 750: Volume 1

Long-Range Strategic Issues
For the fiscal year 2009 program, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) allocated $5,000,000 to examine long-range strategic issues, both global and domestic, that will likely affect state departments of transportation (DOTs) and directed $1,000,000 to each of five projects. These projects were selected based on the 2008 report, Long-Range Strategic Issues Facing the Transportation Industry, funded by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP). This request for proposals is for one of those projects.
Major trends affecting the future of our nation and the world will dramatically reshape transportation priorities and needs. The transportation industry must be ready for the challenges or benefits created by these trends and resulting scenarios. AASHTO recognizes that research can help and wants to ensure that transportation practitioners are equipped to deal with possible futures that may emerge 30 to 50 years out. Consequently, the research being requested here differs from other research administered by the Transportation Research Board in its various cooperative research programs and the Strategic Highway Research Program 2 (SHRP 2).
The objective of this series is to provide guidance to state DOTs that will prepare them for possible futures so DOTs can act, rather than react. This is in contrast to current research in similar subject areas that focuses primarily on improving and building on existing conditions to make advances. Each project panel will be looking for that long-range vision in evaluating the submitted proposals. In addition, these requests for proposals have been prepared as more outcome-oriented, allowing proposers flexibility in the design of a research plan. 
The U.S. transportation system is a key underpinning of American economic activity. Understanding the driving forces that could most significantly affect the transportation system over the next 50 years will allow local, regional, and national transportation decisionmakers to anticipate and invest in transportation system improvements that enable the system to continue to provide key structural support to the U.S. economy.  Foreseeing changes over the longer term future and the consequences of such changes is difficult but not entirely impossible. Several driving forces over the last 50 years shaped the current transportation patterns, and many of them were observable in their early phases. Identifying and monitoring these forces to see if they would continue or what trend they might take would have enabled a more forward-looking transportation investment strategy. For example, when the shipping container was introduced just over 50 years ago, monitoring global orders for container ships, road chassis, or container-handling cranes could have been key indicators that this new concept was taking hold and could change transportation patterns. The leadership of state departments of transportation (DOTs) and others responsible for the nation’s transportation system must try to understand the driving forces that could shape transportation patterns and their impacts on the nation’s transportation system. Research is needed to consider possible economic changes—in the broadest sense of that term—that can inform DOT officials and others responsible for managing the nation’s freight transportation system. Management strategies that recognize emerging trends and are flexible, adaptive, and able to respond effectively will help ensure that the transportation system continues to support the growth of the economy and delivery of an increasingly high quality of life for the nation. Many forces may influence freight demand or transportation patterns now and in the future, for example (1) domestic population growth and the location of that growth; (2) average age of the population (and perhaps more importantly, what age ranges will increase relative to other age ranges); (3) water supplies (for drinking and transportation use) and their locations; (4) labor costs; (5) cost of capital and the value of the dollar; (6) GDP expansion; (7) general economic conditions (e.g., growth, recession or depression); (8) barriers to trade; (9) resource availability; (10) government regulations and policies; (11) domestic income per capita; (12) limitations on the availability or use of fossil fuels; and (13) climate change. Research is needed to identify the most significant of these forces and other forces between now and 2050. What are the plausible trend lines (scenarios) for these forces, how might they interact with each other, what indicators should be monitored and what are the potential tipping points that would indicate a systematic shift, and how can the indicators be monitored?
The objective of this research is to provide decisionmakers with a critical analysis of the driving forces behind high-impact economic changes and business sourcing patterns that may affect the U.S. freight transportation system. This analysis will better enable informed discussions of national, multistate, state, and regional freight policy and system investment priorities.

(I). Catalog and assess driving forces, points where systemic changes occur, leading indicators, and critical dependencies, and their relative importance to future freight patterns.   [Phase I not to exceed 25% of project effort.] (II).  Identify representative plausible scenarios of driving forces and their impacts on future levels and patterns of freight movement, fully articulated to enable “what-if” discussion of consequences, opportunities, and threats. [Phases I and II not to exceed 60% of project effort.] (III). Identify consequences for policy and management strategy for stakeholders (e.g., DOTs and others); means for realizing, accommodating, or managing under alternative scenarios; and uncertainties and risks associated with policies and management strategies. [Phases I through III not to exceed 90% of project effort.] (IV). Present project results in compelling ways to encourage and guide responsible officials to institute appropriate policies and management strategies (for example an effective multimedia presentation for communicating future freight challenges to stakeholders, abstracts for DOT CEOs, and outreach and communication activities). 
Status: Published as NCHRP Report 750, Volume 1: Scenario Planning for Freight Transportation Infrastructure Investment.  The report is also available electronically at

https://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/168694.aspxThe Interim Report containing the research used to develop the scenarios is at

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