That an effective transportation system has contributed importantly to the nation’s economy and wellbeing seems obvious. Investments made in past decades have given us an extensive network infrastructure of roads, airports, navigable waterways, and ports. Additional investment and operating expenditures by private- and public-sector entities use this infrastructure to provide unprecedented mobility for goods and people within our metropolitan and rural areas, across the nation, and worldwide. Technological innovations in both hardware and software have dramatically boosted the system’s capacity and productivity.
However, the system’s importance lies in how it is used. Thousands of Americans are employed in production and distribution businesses that rely on our infrastructure. Millions work at jobs that depend on our ability to move people and goods quickly and at low cost between many points. Hundreds of millions enjoy the benefits of access to employment and entertainment and year-round availability of a huge array of products and services.
While the benefits of the system are substantial, efforts to measure precisely the degree to which our economic and social wellbeing are attributable to this complex system, any of its many parts, or the activities of its many users have been challenging at best. A substantial literature on the subject exists, but many observers judge that the data and analytical methods used have persistently undervalued the system’s importance. Many others find the analyses too arcane to comprehend. Past studies have for the most part failed to provide clear and convincing guidance for public policymakers, business leaders, and the public at large.
The consequent lack of understanding and awareness of the broad impact of transportation system performance—on businesses, households, regions, and the nation—has hampered our ability to forge a national political consensus on how to invest in transportation. Nevertheless, growing population, economic activity, and trade; changing technology and patterns of production and distribution; and evolving public policy require that such investment must continue if we are to ensure that the system can meet our demands for efficient, safe, affordable, and environmentally benign services. Research is needed to explore and apply novel approaches to measuring and presenting the role and value of transportation and the consequences of future levels of investment in the system.
NCHRP Project 20-24(89) is intended to provide compelling research results to support effective decision making and inform public policy. The research is being undertaken to present—in ways that are both readily understandable to a broad audience and defensible within the professional community—the role and value of transportation to the U.S. economy, by developing case studies of transportation’s part in representative industries or economic sectors. These studies will rely on available data and accepted analysis methods to produce meaningful information and present that information in ways that will resonate with stakeholders in the nation’s transportation system.
To date, the following research activities have been initiated with the indicated funding, principal investigator, and research teams:
- NCHRP 20-89A Role and Value of Transportation for U.S. Industries and Sectors—Initial Inquiries: $15,000, Mindy Long (independent researcher): A series of case-study journalistic vignettes were written to illustrate the role of transportation in grocery retailing, logistics of manufactured "white goods" (such as refrigerators, and clothes washers), and microelectronic chips manufacturing and distribution. The individual vignettes were delivered to AASHTO and used in subsequent NCHRP research. The documents are available upon request.
- NCHRP 20-89B Role and Value of Transportation for U.S. Industries and Sectors (Project B): $250,000, Joe Crossett (ICF and High Street Consulting): A web site with infographics and 4 videos (3 to 4 minutes each) were developed, addressing agriculture, e-retail, workforce mobility, and energy delivery. These contractor documents will be useful for introducing the topics to general audiences and as models for agencies considering production of similar information specific to their own state or region. The full web site may be viewed by clicking here. The individual videos are also available through a playlist on YouTube, click here for the playlist; individual URLs and embed code can be obtained by clicking on the videos in that playlist.
- NCHRP 20-89C Transportation Asset Management, Inclusive Wealth, and Ecosystem Services (Role and Value of Transportation for U.S. Industries and Sectors): up to $400,000. PI and contractor, TBD. The objective of the proposed research is to investigate whether the concepts and practices for measuring inclusive wealth and environmental system services can be adapted and extended to provide robust and reliable tools to support state transportation agency decision making. The research would be conducted in two phases: (a) a critical review of current practice, followed if appropriate by (b) development of guidance for transportation agencies.
Research results will be disseminated as they become available and used in other NCHRP publications and elsewhere.