Office of Operations Freight Management and Operations

Freight and Air Quality Handbook

1.0 Introduction

The ability of our nation's transportation system to provide for and maintain the efficient movement of freight is important to the continuing economic health of the United States. U.S. domestic freight tonnage is anticipated to approximately double – and international freight tonnage expected to nearly triple – by 2035. This has led to a growing need to find new ways to address air quality concerns and greenhouse gas emissions associated with freight movements.

Diesel exhaust from freight vehicles is a primary source of PM2.5, air toxic contaminants, and NOx emissions (one precursor to ozone), all of which have potential health implications. Freight emissions comprise close to one-third of U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions, and have grown by more than 50 percent since 1990. As a result, there is a steadily increasing number of challenges faced by both freight and air quality planners as they attempt to simultaneously meet the growing demand for freight while improving environmental outcomes. They must meet the requirements of new and varied initiatives being put into place across the nation as states and regions grapple with air quality issues and emissions budgets, understand how to integrate emerging equipment and infrastructure technologies, look for ways to make the system more efficient, and identify new funding sources for these activities.

A wide range of strategies is available to mitigate these freight and air quality challenges, ranging from technological strategies such as engine retrofits and alternative fuels, to operations strategies such as congestion mitigation and idling reduction. Not only must planners identify viable mitigation strategies, they also must navigate the myriad transportation and environmental funding programs to identify ones that could be applicable to their project.

The Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Office of Freight Management and Operations in cooperation with the Office of Natural and Human Environment developed this handbook as a resource for states, metropolitan planning organizations (MPO), FHWA and other public- and private-sector organizations to use in developing solutions to these challenges. This handbook provides the background needed to understand how freight contributes to air quality issues, describes strategies to mitigate those freight-related pollutant emissions and improve air quality, and identifies funding and financing tools available for freight-related air quality projects (e.g., freight projects designed to reduce the emissions of air pollutants). It is designed to be used by all involved in the identification, financing, and delivery of freight-related air quality projects, whether approaching from a freight or an air quality perspective.

Four sections follow this introduction:

  • Section 2.0: Background on Freight-Related Air Quality provides an introduction to the nature of freight-related pollutants and associated air quality impacts, the sources of emissions by freight mode, and the conditions, laws, and regulations that govern air quality and can impact freight operations and investment decisions.
  • Section 3.0: Strategies for Freight Transportation-Related Emission Reduction/Air Quality Improvement Projects describes the strategies available to reduce emissions from freight movements, from technology applications to operational, policy, and regulatory initiatives.
  • Section 4.0: Funding and Financing Tools for Freight Air Quality Improvements describes the major funding and financing options available for freight-related air quality improvements, focusing particularly on Federal options.
  • Section 5.0: Case Studies describes notable freight projects and programs that are meant to improve air quality and reduce freight-related emissions, to provide real-world examples of how strategies and programs are applied in practice.

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