Office of Operations Freight Management and Operations

Findings on Connector Designation, Data to Support Planning, and Incorporation into State Freight Plans

Chapter 2. Potential Changes to Intermodal Connector Designation Criteria

This portion of work examined potential changes to the designation of National Highway System (NHS) intermodal connectors. The potential changes were identified during previous discussions and research conducted during the first phase of the study and included:

  • Expanding the definition of intermodal freight terminals to include truck-truck terminals.
  • Raising the minimum truck volume threshold for connectors as established during the designation process.
  • Developing route designations that connect terminals specifically to the Interstate system rather than the NHS system.
  • Re-screening existing connectors for eligibility.

These potential changes were discussed with State Department of Transportation (DOT) and Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) staff in 16 agencies about these changes. Summary feedback provided by these agencies is as follows:

  • Some of the State DOTs and MPOs supported expanding the definition of intermodal connectors to include truck-truck terminals because access to those terminals is viewed as important to State and local economic development. However, careful attention must be given to the definition of truck-truck terminals because a wide (and potentially, overly wide) range of truck facilities and access roadways could be included. Other stakeholders felt that expanding the definition would dilute the focus on the current freight intermodal connectors.
  • Respondents indicated little interest in raising the threshold from 100 trucks per day in each direction, but thought that Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) designation criteria should explicitly consider the economic contribution of the connector to the local and regional economy, not just terminal use and truck volumes. States with large agricultural and resource areas would like to make clusters of terminals serving agricultural and resource areas eligible where the terminals share a common access route.
  • Designation and signing of corridors from terminals to the nearest Interstate highway would be an improvement, but State DOTs and MPOs were hesitant to endorse the idea because of concerns about the effectiveness of roadside signs and the cost and the level of effort that might be required to coordinate signing across multiple jurisdictions. Respondents agreed that some initiative should be taken to improve visibility and increase overall awareness of connector routes.
  • State DOTs were unanimously opposed to acquiring more roadway mileage and the cost responsibilities that come with ownership. State agencies believe that local agencies tend to ignore connectors unless the connectors serve significant commuter traffic in addition to freight traffic. Conversely, local agencies believe that the State tend to ignore connectors because they are not major roadways facilitating high volumes of statewide or regional travel.
  • The agencies were in favor of dedicated funding for intermodal connectors or preference for connector roadways within existing funding mechanisms, such as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) or Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE). However, the discussants were concerned that a poorly designed funding program might shortchange States that already have invested in their connectors. Regardless, State DOTs and MPOs were consistent in saying that there should be a better way to prioritize funding to intermodal connectors, as most of the routes are in poor condition.
  • Three proven methods for monitoring truck traffic along intermodal connectors are available to FHWA, State DOTs, and MPOs: 1) traffic volume and classification counts; 2) truck cordon analyses using Global Positioning System (GPS) data; and 3) periodic surveys of terminal operators. All would provide sufficient positional data to assess the use of connectors and the validity of their NHS designation.

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