Findings on Connector Designation, Data to Support Planning, and Incorporation into State Freight Plans
Chapter 3. Conclusions on Incorporating Freight Intermodal Planning into State Freight Plans
49 U.S.C. 70202(e) of the Fixing America"s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act includes a requirement that State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) develop State Freight Plans to be eligible for freight funding sources. This report provides guidance for States in regards to incorporating designated National Highway System (NHS) freight intermodal connectors into their State Freight Plans. This report lists the 10 required elements for developing State Freight Plans compliant with 49 U.S.C. 70202(e) and explains how intermodal freight planning can be incorporated into them. The remainder of this section provides detailed information on the process that can be used to gather the information and perform the analysis necessary to incorporate freight intermodal connectors into these plans.
Describing the trends, needs, and issues related to freight intermodal connectors lays the foundation for incorporating connectors into State Freight Plans. Information from this activity is used to confirm the designation of existing connectors, identify potential new connectors, determine the users of freight connectors, examine the needs for freight improvements, and develop estimates of the future trajectory of usage of connectors.
Analysis of vehicle classifications counts and input from stakeholders conducted in earlier tasks in this study identified that assembling accurate vehicle classification count data on designated NHS freight intermodal connectors is a major challenge for freight intermodal planning efforts. State Freight Plans should examine several sources to determine existing classification count data, including:
- Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) database.
- State DOT classification count databases.
- Local planning and environmental studies related to the freight intermodal terminal.
- Previous freight planning efforts which may have included the freight intermodal terminal.
Ideally, the vehicle classification data for multiple years will be available and trends in truck and auto volumes can be examined for the freight intermodal connector. Available vehicle classification count data should be presented to freight stakeholders to confirm the accuracy of the information. State DOTs should consider collecting new count data on freight intermodal connectors, if the accuracy of count data cannot be verified.
Another step of determining recent trends related to freight intermodal connectors is to determine the trends that are impacting the terminals that generate truck traffic on the connector. Trends in volumes at the terminals tend to match with activity levels for freight intermodal connectors. For public marine ports, annual containerized traffic volumes can be obtained from the American Association of Port Administrators. Port volume estimates can be combined with estimates of inland modal shares for truck and rail to estimate the number of trucks generated at the terminal and therefore likely to use intermodal connectors.
Airport freight intermodal connector volumes can be estimated using air cargo estimates and dividing this by an average payload weight per truck accessing an airport. Pipeline terminal estimates are not generally available, but may be obtained from outreach to terminal operators. Similarly, volumes at intermodal rail yards may be available through outreach to the operating railroad or from previously published reports. The American Association of Railroads generates annual containerized volume estimates, which can be used as an estimate for trends at individual intermodal container yards. Class I railroads also provide annual estimates for company-wide containerized volumes through their quarterly earnings reports which are available on their corporate Web sites. These documents can be used as estimates of trends at localized rail intermodal yards.
There are a wide range of needs that can arise on freight intermodal connectors. As an example, as part of the Oregon Freight Intermodal Connector Study the results of a stakeholder survey identified more than 150 specific needs for connectors in the State across 11 categories. The categories were identified within the survey and respondents had the opportunity to identify additional types of needs as well. The pre-selected 11 categories were:
- Trucks mixing with other roadway users (e.g., cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists) and operating in areas of incompatible land uses.
- Pavement condition.
- Train impediments.
- Shoulder width.
- Turning movements.
- Striping/signage issues.
- Truck parking.
- Height/weight restrictions.
- Truck regulations.
These 11 categories can be considered for examination in State Freight Plans. As shown in figure 1, the most common of these needs was congestion with 27 specific congestion-related issues identified across the 82 responses. This was followed by issues related to truck activity mixing with other roadways users and land uses, poor pavement condition, and safety issues with 26, 21, and 21 responses respectively for each of these categories. The issues with the most responses could be deserving of more detailed analysis in State Freight Plans.
Earlier tasks of this study determined that nationally, 37 percent of connectors have poor pavement conditions. The analysis also determined that on average, peak-period speeds are 11 percent lower than nighttime speeds, which indicates that congestion is a common issue as well as across the country.
To estimate congestion on freight intermodal connectors, State DOTs can utilize the FHWA National Performance Management Research Data Set (NPMRDS) to determine congested and uncongested truck and auto speeds.
This information can be combined with count data to estimate the levels of delay and describe congestion patterns on the connector. Pavement condition data are available through the FHWA HPMS system. Safety data can be obtained from statewide vehicle crash databases.
(Source: Oregon Freight Intermodal Connector Study, 2016.)
State DOTs should consider policies, strategies, and performance measures that are targeted towards freight intermodal connectors. Examples can include:
- Guidelines to maintain freight intermodal connector pavement conditions to a minimum level.
- Targeting a percentage of the State freight funding to be applied to improving the operation of designated NHS freight intermodal connectors.
- Calculating connector delay on a regular basis (perhaps annually) to identify segments that have emerging congestion issues.
It is possible that there is some overlap between roadways that are designated as freight intermodal connectors and roadways that are designated as rural or urban freight corridors. State DOTs should consider the advantages and disadvantages to having overlapping designation. The advantage includes a recognition that such an overlap would highlight roadways that are an important part of a State"s freight infrastructure for multiple reasons. The disadvantage includes that it reduces the amount of mileage in the State for which freight funding can be applied.
There are 10 national multimodal freight policy goals described in 49 U.S. Code 70101. In relationship to freight intermodal connectors, the unique elements of the goals include its emphasis on the economic development aspect of freight planning. Describing the economic importance of improvements to freight intermodal connectors can be used to support the national multimodal freight policy goals. This can be accomplished in a number of new ways, including the following:
- The economic benefits of improvements can be estimated from reductions in delay using factors described in the FHWA Highway Economic Requirements System.
- The economic benefits of pavement improvements can be estimated using.
- A qualitative description of how improvements to freight intermodal connectors will provide benefits for the industries that rely on the freight terminals to support their supply chains.
- A qualitative description of how improvements to freight intermodal connectors support the expansion or relocation of freight-intensive companies.
The national multimodal freight policy goals also include improving reliability of the Nation"s freight infrastructure. The reliability of freight intermodal connectors can be estimated based on FHWA NPMRDS database. Improvements in reliability of connectors can be estimated based on speed improvements that are identified for these connectors.
Improvements to pavement condition and the environment that arise from improvements of freight intermodal connectors also support the national goals. Other elements of the national multimodal policy goals can be supported through the analysis of trends, needs and issues of freight intermodal connectors, as described in the Connector Data in Existing Databases section.
State Freight Plan guidance includes recommendations that State DOTs consider innovative technologies and operational strategies, including freight intelligent transportation systems, which improve the safety and efficiency of freight movement. For freight intermodal connectors, a particular focus can be given to technologies that can be applied to improve the operations of designated freight terminals and information that can be provided to truck drivers that access these terminals.
The FHWA Freight Advanced Traveler Information Systems (FRATIS) has identified two broad types of applications: 1) freight-specific dynamic travel planning and performance, and 2) drayage and truck routing optimization. (More information on the FHWA Freight Advanced Traveler Information System (FRATIS) program can be found in the FHWA Talking Freight Seminar from July of 2014.) The elements of freight-specific travel planning and performance that should be considered as it relates to freight intermodal connectors include:
- Real-time data on wait times at intermodal terminals, such as container ports and intermodal railyards.
- Adaptive communication between drayage companies that operate at freight intermodal terminals, truck drivers, and intermodal terminal operators.
- Dynamic routing for drivers that allows for optimal route choices to be made based on real-time traffic conditions.
Freight intermodal connectors are often used by trucks that operate close to the 80,000-pound maximum truck weight on the Interstate system, pursuant to 23 U.S.C. 127. This occurs due to large shippers loading containers to their maximum allowable weight to minimize the number of containers utilized, thereby reducing total cost incurred by the shipper. Additionally, freight intermodal connectors may be used by overweight trucks, which are often permitted to operate at large bulk terminals that are located next to freight intermodal terminals, such as those typically located at marine ports. State Freight Plans should examine whether there are overweight trucks allowed on connector roads, and note any impacts on pavement conditions or other safety issues that might arise from these trucks.
Identify strategies to address freight mobility issues of freight intermodal connectors. Generally, these strategies are similar to those that would be considered for freight-intensive corridors that are not designated connectors. These strategies can be considered across three categories:
- Infrastructure improvements, such as adding capacity, improving pavement, and developing roadway geometry to match with truck operating needs.
- Operational improvements, such as improving signal timing, implementing intelligent transportation systems, and improving signage or striping of the roadway.
- Policy improvements, such as providing incentives to operate terminals during the nighttime to reduce daytime congestion and designating connectors as part of local truck routes.
Calculations of delay can be used to estimate if there is significant congestion or delay caused by freight. Freight intermodal connectors typically do not suffer from major incidents, such as truck-involved crashes that have the potential to shut down corridors for several hours impacting tens of thousands of vehicles, while incidents are cleared.
One of the primary advantages of designating a roadway as an NHS freight intermodal connector is that the roadway becomes eligible for NHS funding. Therefore, investment plans that are developed as part of State Freight Plans should consider NHS funding along with freight-focused funding sources to improve freight intermodal connectors.
State Freight Advisory Committees are a critical component to the outreach needed to develop a State Freight Plan and implement the recommendations that are developed in these plans. It is important to ensure that State Freight Advisory Committees incorporate the representation of stakeholders that are knowledgeable of the trends, needs, and issues of freight intermodal connectors. This can be accomplished by incorporating stakeholders that operate the freight intermodal terminals that generate truck traffic on the connectors. Additionally, consideration should be given to incorporating shippers and receivers of goods that rely on freight intermodal connectors in the State. Finally, representatives of truck operators that are familiar with the freight intermodal connectors.
More broadly, input needs to occur with local transportation agencies that in many instances own and operate the roadways along with potentially community organizations that represent neighborhoods nearby to freight connectors. However, these two representatives are likely less important to include in the full State Freight Advisory Committee.
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