Office of Operations Freight Management and Operations

FHWA Freight and Land Use Handbook

Executive Summary

Nationally, there is a growing awareness among local governments, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO), and state departments of transportation (DOT) that land use and freight planning activities should be more closely coordinated. However, many agencies find it challenging to coordinate freight transportation and land use planning activities to ensure that transportation facilities are compatible with adjacent land uses, or that land use decisions are consistent with freight mobility and operational needs. These agencies are working to understand how land use issues impact freight movements (and vice versa), the types of stakeholders that should be involved in land use and freight planning activities, and the types of tools, techniques, and strategies used by other local, regional, and state agencies across the country to deal with these issues.

The goal of this Freight and Land Use handbook is to provide transportation and land use planning practitioners in the public and private sectors with the tools and resources to properly assess the impacts of land use decisions on freight movements, as well as the impacts of freight development and growth on land use planning goals. The handbook identifies freight-related land use issues, key considerations, and available resources. Throughout the handbook, examples and case studies from a range of urban and rural areas across the country are used to demonstrate the effectiveness of these techniques.

Linking Freight and Land Use Planning

Freight generating land uses, such as agriculture, natural resources and mining, construction, warehousing, manufacturing, logistics, and port and harbor operations, can bring tremendous positive benefits to a region. Some of the benefits of freight generating land uses include: direct and indirect employment associated with freight activity; business and income tax benefits to local, regional, and state economies; contribution to state and local economic output; and lower costs for goods and services. Freight generating industries also can produce negative impacts on a region’s air quality by producing vehicle emissions and on land uses near freight generating facilities by producing noise, vibration, odor, and light pollution.

Because freight volumes, and their attendant impacts, are anticipated to increase significantly in the future, growing by over 60 percent (nationally) over the next 25 years, it is important to plan appropriately to accommodate freight-generating industries while protecting the health, safety, and quality of life of residents. Transportation and land use planning cycles can be better coordinated to accommodate freight and reduce its impacts by adopting “Freight as a Good Neighbor” strategies, adopting sustainable freight land use policies and practices, and accounting for freight physical and operational needs and impact mitigation through zoning.

Freight as a Good Neighbor

If freight planning and land-use decision-making activities are well integrated, both the public and private sector may benefit through reduced congestion, improved air quality and safety, enhanced community livability, improved operational efficiency, reduced transportation costs, and greater access to facilities and markets. The freight community can be considered “a good neighbor” when such a balance between economic activity and external impacts is achieved. Public agencies can encourage this balance through adoption of appropriate and coordinated land use policies, effective transportation systems and services, effective operations and management policies of transportation infrastructure and terminals, and continuous education and outreach programs to engage community and industry representatives.

  • Appropriate and Coordinated Land Use Policies. Land use is generally planned and implemented at the local agency level, using the comprehensive plan, zoning code, and permitting system. However, many regional agencies, such as MPOs, can assist through regional visioning, which helps to coordinate plans among agencies in the region, and tax relief programs to encourage industrial development and redevelopment consistent with regional goals. Municipalities and regional agencies also may work with the private sector to reduce conflicts by establishing buffers between industrial and sensitive land uses, influencing location and design decisions through zoning tools, preserving existing industrial land uses, and promoting context-sensitive solutions for site and building design.
  • Effective Transportation Systems and Services. Freight-exclusive transportation facilities such as truck lanes, direct highway connections to freight facilities, and the reduction of at-grade rail crossings are examples of strategies that improve transportation system safety and limit the potential impacts of freight movement on the safety and quality of life of the public at large.
  • Effective Operations and Management Policies. Impacts may be reduced by encouraging off-peak deliveries, promoting anti-idling technologies to reduce emissions impacts, creating “quiet zones” along freight rail lines that pass through residential areas, reduce, or mitigate airplane noise through airplane design, and airport site planning that is sensitive to neighboring land uses.
  • Education and Outreach. Lack of awareness is a key reason that logistics needs are not often considered in planning and development decisions. By educating public officials and the public at large regarding freight benefits; providing technical assistance to officials to develop appropriate plans and codes; assisting freight-generating businesses to understand and mitigate existing or potential impacts; local, regional, and state governments can foster a common understanding of freight and land use issues among all stakeholders at the table.

Freight Land Use and Sustainability

The term “sustainability” represents a pattern of human activity that aims to use the planet’s resources in a manner that meets the needs of the world’s population now and in the future, while achieving a balance between environmental conservation, economic development, and livability (including consideration of social equity and justice). Sustainability is a concept that is increasingly entering discussions of freight movement and freight generating land uses. Therefore, the concept of sustainable freight is one that maximizes the positive features of freight movement (jobs, economic development, etc.) while minimizing the negative impacts to communities and the natural environment. Many local and regional government agencies are adopting sustainable land use strategies, including strategies to accommodate freight in urbanized areas, and to develop freight clusters in a manner that reduces the environmental and community impacts. Examples of sustainable freight land use strategies include industrial preservation, brownfields redevelopment, and freight villages.

Accounting for the Impacts and Needs of Freight

Freight and community needs are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, the needs of the private-sector freight community may align well with local and regional sustainable development strategies. Freight shippers and carriers have a variety of needs that are critical to efficient and safe goods movement. Shipper and carrier land use needs vary by region and activity type, but generally include: adequate capacity and reliable performance of the transportation system; sites with access to the transportation networks; loading and staging areas; sufficient geometric design to accommodate trucks and/or rail equipment; policies and design to foster safety and security. Local, regional, and state agencies can take action to accommodate these needs and properly mitigate the impacts.

  • Local governments can conduct traffic access and impact studies; perform site planning reviews; develop or analyze truck routes; review the comprehensive plan to ensure land set aside for industrial uses is adequate and appropriate; use overlay zones with form-based or performance-based criteria; enforce loading zone and parking regulations; involve the private sector in developing site design standards; and provide guidance to developers.
  • Regional agencies’ planning actions include: lead regional visioning and goods movement studies; create regional freight plans to define key freight mobility goals and land use priorities; create model ordinances and best practices for local governments’ use; create corridor or subarea plans that consider freight needs and impacts; and work with rail, air, and waterborne freight planners to determine needs at regional terminals.
  • State governments can help address freight needs by providing a vision for planning and guidance to regional and local governments. States can: consider freight issues in statewide long-range transportation plans; include freight mobility as a criterion in project selection processes; take freight needs into account in highway design; develop corridor and subarea plans to address congestion and safety issues; and work with local zoning authorities to ensure consistency with state planning goals and to minimize conflicts between adjacent land uses in separate local jurisdictions.
  • Private-Sector Freight Stakeholder planning actions include: participating in and comment on local, regional, and state transportation plans and studies; participating on freight planning committees; and offering opportunities for public-sector officials to learn about business and operations.


Together, the topics covered in this handbook will introduce some of the main players, policies, programs, and strategies that form the basis of knowledge for integrating freight into the land use planning process. By providing a broad swath of viewpoints, the handbook should appeal to public and private-sector freight stakeholders from all sides of the issue; including industrial site developers, land use practitioners, local government officials, members of the public, or anyone else.

Though this handbook is comprehensive, it is a static document. Readers should remember that the freight industry is a rapidly and ever-changing industry, reflective of economic and demographic shifts as well as global supply chain developments. Public and private stakeholders, alike, need to continue to work towards understanding the regions within which they operate. States and regions are constantly identifying ways to increase their ability to compete regionally, nationally and globally. Private-sector companies are constantly trying to streamline and economize their operations, and develop innovative solutions to existing problems. This handbook provides a good understanding of the issues, needs, opportunities, and strategies that will serve as a starting point to better integrate freight and land use in an ongoing and permanent manner.

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