Policy Addendum to APA Policy Guide on Surface Transportation

Adopted by Chapter Delegate Assembly, April 2, 2016
Ratified by APA Board of Directors, July 15, 2016



The American Planning Association's 2010 Surface Transportation Policy Guide recognizes the importance of freight. However, this addendum is designed to closely explore the topic and how freight could be integrated into the larger transportation system and communities served by the system.

Freight is the physical manifestation of the economy. The effective and efficient movement of goods supports a vast network of commercial and industrial activities that help create vibrant communities and millions of jobs. Freight delivers food and many of life's other necessities. The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) estimates that the transportation system moves over 54 million tons of goods — worth nearly $48 billion — each day, or almost 63 tons of freight per person per year. Freight tonnage is forecasted to increase 45 percent by 2040.1 Many economic activities rely on "just in time" supply chain management; thus any disruptions in freight systems can have an immediate ripple effect through the economy.

While freight growth is an indicator of a strong economy, care must be taken to mitigate negative externalities that can impact our communities. Current methods of freight movement impact the sustainability of communities that have freight intensive uses or facilities. Freight movement contributes to noise, congestion and air pollution. Communities must support freight movement, while taking steps to support policies and design forms which attempt to harmonize the movement of freight within the natural and built environment.

The multimodal freight system is owned and operated by the public and private sectors. The publicly owned highway network is traversed by truck drivers that may or may not work for the company that ships the goods or receives them. Increasingly, freight decisions are made by third party brokers. Often freight problems, do not have perfect answers. Planners must have a full understanding of the complexities and trade-offs involved in these decisions. Often, stakeholder outreach is critical to successful planning decisions. Federal policy suggests that transportation agencies formalize Freight Advisory Councils to provide private sector input as part of larger planning processes.2

Given the importance of freight to the economy and the future of our communities, APA and its Chapters and Divisions support measures and policies that enhance the sustainable development of an efficient and effective freight transportation and land use system. To this end, APA together with its Chapters and Divisions encourages our members to pursue a sustainable multimodal freight system that facilitates the efficient movement of freight and people, supports a thriving economy, and protects the natural and human environment. A sustainable freight system should meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.


The American Planning Association and its Chapters and Divisions recognize the importance of the freight system to our economy. We support a balanced, multi-modal transportation network, now and in the future, that supports adequate, convenient, and safe access for goods movement. We encourage planners and decision makers to continue to support the development of a sustainable freight system by improving its productivity and efficiency.

Environmental Protection

The American Planning Association and its Chapters and Divisions recommend planners develop policies which attempt to avoid, reduce, and mitigate any adverse impacts of the freight system to the natural environment. APA encourages planners to develop integrated freight strategies that both improve freight efficiency and address air and noise pollution and climate change impacts. APA and its Chapters and Divisions support planning and development efforts to increase transportation efficiencies, including the development of technology and infrastructure that support the expansion and use of alternative fuel vehicles, and the increased use of other more energy-efficient freight transportation modes.

Community and Social Stewardship

The American Planning Association and its Chapters and Divisions encourage planners to address any negative impacts of the freight system to local communities, particularly to environmental justice communities, environmentally sensitive areas and historic/cultural resources. APA and its Chapters and Divisions recognize that public participation plays a key role in the development of transportation plans, programs, and strategies. There must be a recognition by planners that the lowest cost solution in terms of public outlay often places disproportionate burdens on those who can least afford them. The use of placemaking principles and the concept of livability are key tenets of this declaration.


The American Planning Association and its Chapters and Divisions acknowledge that the transportation of goods plays an important role in the quality of life of local communities. We acknowledge that any true Complete Street Policy must be carefully balanced to consider the needs of freight transportation; however, it must be accomplished in a way that safely integrates freight movement into the community as a whole. APA and its Chapters and Divisions support planners' efforts that help reduce the cost of congestion to the freight system by developing and implementing multi-modal strategies, programs, and projects that are fully integrated with other transportation and land use goals. By maximizing multimodal connectivity, it is possible to facilitate the right balance that reduces congestion while maintaining necessary throughput. To be clear, multimodal in this sense is as expansive as possible to include water, rail and air and is not restricted to highways. Indeed, the more freight that can be diverted from highways, bridges and roads can have the effect of reducing both congestion and the needed added investment in roads.

Safety, Security and Resiliency

The American Planning Association and its Chapters and Divisions acknowledge that the freight system is susceptible to natural disasters and human caused events; conversely, the freight system itself can impose safety risks on population centers. APA and its Chapters and Divisions recognize that disruptions to the freight systems could have devastating consequences to the economy. APA and its Chapters and Divisions encourage planners to improve the safety, security, and resiliency of the freight system, including pipelines.

Best Practices

The American Planning Association and its Chapters and Divisions recommend the use of innovative technologies and practices to develop, operate, preserve, and enhance the efficiency of the freight system while mitigating its economic, environmental and community adverse impacts.


The American Planning Association and its Chapters and Divisions acknowledge that coordination among the various segments of the public and private sectors is fundamental to developing a sustainable freight system. APA and its Chapters and Divisions support the coordination among local, regional, state, and federal government and the participation of private sector representatives in the development of freight plans, policies, and strategies. APA and its Chapters and Divisions support the establishment of public-public and public-private partnerships that improve and advance a sustainable and efficient freight system. These activities should be focused on developing a freight system and corresponding policies that provide a net-benefit for communities.


The American Planning Association and its Chapters and Divisions endorse the creation/expansion of dedicated, reliable, long-term freight funding programs that maintain and enhance existing multimodal and intermodal freight assets. We support fiscal and budgetary policies that encourage efficient freight movement. APA and its Chapters and Divisions recommend that any freight program should first preserve the state of good repair, improve the operations and management of this system, address community and environmental impacts of freight, and finally expand capacity of the freight system. APA and its Chapters and Divisions support a strong role of regional and state governments to facilitate fiscally responsible, socially equitable decision making and problem solving, while respecting local governmental decision making and community goals.


The American Planning Association and its Chapters and Divisions recognize the importance of easy, reliable, consistent, and affordable access to freight and goods movement data at the community, regional, and state levels, as an integral component of multimodal transportation planning.

Rationale, Key Facts and Definitions

The transportation planning field has historically focused moving people. Today, freight planning is an emerging field as planners are increasingly looking at the role transportation plays in supporting the economy. Over the next 30 years freight growth is expected to significantly increase. That growth is increasingly more complex, competitive and uncertain. Traditionally, freight trips took place between warehouses to shopping centers. Today, with the rise of e-commerce, freight is being delivered and impacting our neighborhoods directly.

Freight movements include goods of all values and importance. Consequently, disruption to the freight system, regardless of cause, can result in severe shortages of critical items such as food and fuel in communities and regions. Freight system resilience requires full consideration of potential impacts to communities served as well as those affecting shippers and the transportation system.

While freight growth is a product of a healthy economy, care must be taken to mitigate the resulting negative externalities to ensure our communities' livability and resiliency are not impacted. Planners play an important role in balancing competing interests to ensure communities receive a net benefit from this projected growth.

Key Facts

  • Most goods travel less than 250 miles. (Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS): 2015 Freight Facts and Figures)
  • Trucks carry the largest amount of freight for short distances (less than 750 miles) and rail carries the most freight beyond 750 miles. (BTS: 2015 Freight Facts and Figures)
  • Freight infrastructure is owned by both the public and private sectors. However, government funded transportation projects account for 90 percent of total transportation construction. (BTS: 2015 Freight Facts and Figures)
  • While freight activity has doubled between 1990 and 2013, fatalities in freight related crashes have decreased by 30.2 percent . (BTS: 2015 Freight Facts and Figures)
  • Transportation comprises three percent of the U.S. Gross National Product. Source: U.S. Department of Labor.
  • In 2014, the transportation service sector of the U.S. economy produced 4,640,300 jobs. In 2024, this sector is expected to reach 4,776,900, equating to a three percent growth rate. Source: www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_201.htm.
  • The U.S. freight rail network consists of 140,000 rail miles operated by seven Class I railroads and 510 local railroads. Source: Federal Railroad Administration
  • In 1955 there were 1,072 U.S. flagged vessels sailing internationally. Currently, this number stands at 93 vessels. Some of this drop represents the increased size of the vessels of today. However, much of the drop is ascribed to the Jones Act of 1920 which, among other things, requires U.S. flagged vessels to meet stringent safety standards. Critics claim the cost of vessels built to meet these standards is 3 times higher than ships delivered by foreign shipyards. Overall, in 1955, U.S. flagged vessels represented almost 25 percent of the world's overall tonnage while the U.S. share today is approximately 2 percent of total world tonnage. Source: www.americanmaritime.org/merchant/.
  • Combination truck VMT is projected to grow at an average annual rate of 2.12 percent over the next 20 years and 2.04 percent over the next 30 years, while growth in travel by single-unit trucks is projected to average 2.15 percent and 1.93 percent per year over those same periods. Thus, growth in truck use is also expected to slow in the final decade of the forecast period (2033-2043). Source: www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/tables/vmt/vmt_forecast_sum.pdf
  • In FY2012, the USACE itself or through contracted services dredged 235 million cubic yards for construction and maintenance of shipping channels. Source: http://planning.usace.army.mil/toolbox/pdfs/civilworksprogramstatistics.pdf.


  • Barge – The cargo‐carrying vehicle that inland water carriers primarily use. Basic barges have open tops, but there are covered barges for both dry and liquid cargoes.
  • Breakbulk Cargo – Cargo of non‐uniform sizes, often transported on pallets, sacks, drums, or bags. These cargoes require labor‐intensive loading and unloading processes. Examples of breakbulk cargo include coffee beans, logs, or pulp.
  • Bulk Cargo – Cargo that is unbound as loaded; it is without count in a loose unpackaged form. Examples of bulk cargo include coal, grain, and petroleum products.
  • Class 1 Railroads – those that exceed a certain revenue level that is adjusted yearly by the Surface Transportation Board. For 2011, the level was $433.2 million; Class 2, $34.7 to $433.2 million; and Class 3, less than $34.7 million.
  • Commodity – An Item that is traded in commerce. The term usually implies an undifferentiated product competing primarily on price and availability.
  • Container – A large, standard sized metal box into which cargo is packed for shipment.
  • Containerization – A shipment method in which commodities are placed in containers, and after initial loading, the commodities per se are not re‐handled in shipment until they are unloaded at destination.
  • Containerized Cargo – Cargo that is transported in containers that can be transferred easily from one transportation mode to another.
  • Distribution Center (DC) – The warehouse facility which holds inventory from manufacturing pending distribution to the appropriate stores.
  • Double‐stack – Railcar movement of containers stacked two high.
  • Drayage – Transporting of rail or ocean freight by truck to an intermediate or final destination; typically pickup/delivery of goods moving short distances (e.g., from marine terminal to warehouse).
  • For‐hire Carrier – Carrier that provides transportation service to the public on a fee basis.
  • Freight – Any commodity being transported.
  • Hazardous Materials – As used in this document, the term has broad meaning to apply to any substance transported that can pose a danger to the natural and built environment through which carried as well as to species and individuals.
  • Hub – A common connection point for devices in a network. Referenced for a transportation network as in "hub and spoke" which is common in the airline and trucking industry.
  • Intermodal – Carriage by more than a single mode with a transfer(s) between modes; generally as containerized cargo.
  • Inland Marine Transport – Domestic goods movement via U.S. coastal and inland waterways, including on smaller ships, ocean-going barges, and river hopper barges with slots. Goods can also be moved by railcar or truck directly on barge or in the hold of a ship as roll-on/roll-off cargo. "Marine Highways" are a specific subset of this mode of freight movement and are designated by US Department of Transportation (USDOT)/ United States Maritime Administration (MARAD).
  • Liquid Bulk Cargo – A type of bulk cargo that consists of liquid items, such as petroleum, water, or liquid natural gas.
  • Logistics – All activities involved in the management of product movement; delivering the right product from the right origin to the right destination, with the right quality and quantity, at the right schedule and price.
  • Motor carrier – A firm engaged in providing commercial motor freight or long distance trucking
  • Multimodal – A broader term than intermodal in that it refers to a commodity going by more than one means of transport, under a single contract, but not necessarily by a single carrier.
  • Private Fleet – Carrier that provides transportation service for a private company.
  • Rail Siding – A very short branch off a main railway line with only one point leading onto it. Sidings are used to allow faster trains to pass slower ones or to conduct maintenance.

Policy Outcomes

This section summarizes the American Planning Association's desired results from the implementation of the policy declarations above.

Economic Considerations

Freight growth is the physical manifestation of a strong economy. However, the benefits of freight and the consequences of its externalities are often concentrated on certain communities near major transportation nodes or corridors. Freight contributes both positively and negatively to quality of life.

APA and its Chapters and Divisions support the following Policy Outcomes:

  • A multimodal system approach: Freight transportation should be looked at holistically and focus on improving connectivity between various modes, and not supporting one mode to the detriment of the others.
  • Improved resiliency and recovery from natural and man-made disasters: Critical public and private infrastructure supporting freight movement should be identified and prioritized for improvement. This necessarily includes private investments in supply chain resilience as well as public and private investments in transportation infrastructure.
  • Job access: Freight intensive developments should be served by transit as a means of enhancing job opportunities throughout the entirety of host communities and especially environmental justice areas.
  • Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: Governments at all levels must cooperate and coordinate to establish the framework for the implementation of these vehicles; each has an appropriate and essential role.
  • Fully functional Marine Highways as a viable freight movement alternative: Efficient investments in increased capacity and the ability to move and service larger vessels at seaports, inland lock systems and riverine freight terminals could make water transport, already the least costly per ton moved, a larger component of the freight movement network.
  • Improved freight routing strategies: Increase the efficiency of freight routing utilizing appropriate data and engineering; this can be an appropriate economic development strategy for some regions, however, locally approved plans must be respected.

Environmental Considerations

Freight transportation is perhaps best viewed as an industrial use and, because of its growth and heavy reliance on over-the-road trucking and air transport, is contributing a growing share of several air pollutants (especially nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulates) and greenhouse gas emissions. Rail freight contributes coal dust and has had several notable derailments of petroleum-laden tank cars; since many rail lines follow rivers such problems may have water quality impacts. Noise — and often significantly high levels of noise — are a part of the movement of the planes, trains, ships and trucks. Pipeline spills, depending on what is in the batch coming through at the time, can contaminate air, water and land. Less obvious environmental concerns include habitat and land use fragmentation and stormwater management issues from large impervious surfaces.

APA and its Chapters and Divisions support the following Policy Outcomes:

  • Air quality improvement: Because volatile organic compounds (VOC), NOx, carbon monoxide (CO), and particulates are substantial contributors to smog and greenhouse gas emissions, the stringency of the federal air emissions standards for freight equipment should be increased to reduce the air emissions associated with freight movement; this should occur gradually over a period corresponding to the expected lifetime of equipment to diminish any economic distortions.
  • Environmental benefits from new technologies: New and emerging freight delivery technologies should be carbon-neutral and zero emission; federal funds should be offered to match private research and development to bring these cleaner technologies to market more quickly. One example is increased deployment of shore-supplied power at ports to reduce emissions from idling ships in harbors (Long Beach, California, cited as example).
  • Expanded use of green infrastructure: Public and private investments in "green infrastructure" techniques appropriate to freight facilities and transport corridors should be enhanced and their inclusion required in all new or expanded facilities, corridors and alignments.
  • Reduced drayage to reduce noise and air emissions: Federal and state funds should be available for research into better ways of eliminating or substantially reducing the drayage requirements at ports while simultaneously ensuring that all vehicles used for drayage, whether over-the-road or not, meet the same noise and air quality standards as over-the-road trucks.
  • Limit corridors in which hazardous materials may be transported: The corridors, waterways and facilities that comprise the National Freight Network, National Rail Network and Marine Highways are especially susceptible to hazardous materials spills. As such, only a subset of these networks should be designated for the transport of hazardous materials and those must have physical controls and response practices in place to prevent contamination of surface and ground waters by accidental spills or other discharges.

Community and Social Stewardship

Disadvantaged low-income and minority communities are among the first and hardest impacted by freight activities. These neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by environmental pollution and other hazards that can lead to negative public health effects, exposure, or environmental degradation. The development of freight plans, programs, and strategies needs to have meaningful involvement of these communities. People from these neighborhoods should have the opportunity to participate and influence the decisions regarding activities that might affect them and planners have an ethical responsibility to ensure that such engagement occurs. Local, regional and national policies and plans should clearly recognize that most freight operations other than finally delivery to consumers are inherently industrial in nature and do not mix well with residential occupancy or the protection and preservation of sensitive environmental, historic and cultural resources.

APA and its Chapters and Divisions support the following Policy Outcomes:

  • Equal protection of health and from hazardous condition: Implementation of freight plans and strategies should meet the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) definition of Environmental Justice as "...the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies."
  • Context-sensitive freight route designation, construction and maintenance: Planners should endeavor to ensure that freight route work minimizes negative impacts on surrounding communities by limiting hours of construction, ensuring that fully accessible detours are available for all transportation modes, including human powered, but which do not route traffic into and through inappropriate areas, and that meaningful public outreach occurs well in advance.
  • Strategies that incentivize clean and quiet freight fleets: Stringent truck fuel efficiency and emission standards, including noise and vibration, are among the most effective tools to reduce negative health and community impacts.
  • Low Emission Zones (LEZs) for low-income and minority neighborhoods: Due to the high share of negative freight impacts to low-income and minority neighborhoods, planners should consider selective implementation of LEZs for these neighborhoods. LEZs should define minimum health and quality of life standards for these communities. Potential negative economic consequences of LEZ implementation must be considered.
  • Complete streets: In developing models and templates for complete streets within communities, the needs of freight, and especially local freight and package delivery, should be considered. Urban areas are a particular challenge and extra care must be taken to ensure that active transportation modes are not unduly placed at risk by freight/package pick-up and delivery; planners should support efforts by National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and others to create guidance for accommodating all modes and transport needs in urban environments.
  • "Buy Local" efforts: Planners should work to help communities understand the potential benefits of buying locally sourced goods—reduced trips, support for local economies, shorter trip distances and greater community resilience to external disruption.


There are many causes for traffic congestion, such as inadequate transportation infrastructure, poor traffic demand management policies and suburban/exurban sprawl. According to the draft National Freight Strategic Plan, 4 the U.S. freight systems across all transportation modes faces major capacity constraints. Today, truck congestion wastes $27 billion in time and fuel annually.

APA and its Chapters and Divisions support the following Policy Outcomes:

  • Traffic and parking regulations that accommodate local freight demand: Municipalities should require loading zones to be incorporated in new developments and set standards for them as well as for loading docks as a part of certain land uses. Providing appropriate locations for truck lay-by parking to accommodate required driver rest periods should also be considered.
  • City logistics and consolidation schemes: Truck traffic can be reduced by finding ways to consolidate pick-up and deliveries of different shippers and receivers. A successful example is the development of drop-off/pick-up boxes for online purchases to reduce home deliveries. Another example is the partnership between FedEx and the US Postal service (USPS) in which the former handles the long-haul portion of the shipment to a post office and the USPS provides local delivery.
  • Off-hour deliveries regulations: Shifting truck activity away from peak traffic period can reduce both congestion and emissions.
  • Local Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS): These systems include technologies for providing real-time traffic and parking information, toll collection, and automated access control.
  • Partnerships with the private sector and truck routing providers: Planners should encourage sharing of data and mapping systems to facilitate efficient travel while ensuring trucks avoid historic districts, school zones and congested areas, including special events and venues.
  • Strategies that address traffic congestion at freight gateway hubs—seaports, airports, border crossings, and distribution centers: Appointment and pricing strategies have been successfully incorporated into the operation of freight hubs. In addition, programs such as the Chicago Regional Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program (CREATE), the Alameda Corridor and the I-564 Intermodal Connector are good examples of grade-separation projects that both improve the freight flow and reduce negative community impacts.
  • Optimized freight mobility within regions through balanced approaches to mode share: Freight system performance can be improved by assessing opportunities to facilitate higher freight mode share by rail and by properly siting, enhancing operations and upgrading the capacity of intermodal facilities. The right balance in a community or region between rail, truck and maritime freight movements depends on many factors, including investments in the infrastructure and operating systems necessary to facilitate those movements. Planners should advocate for policies that enhance connectivity among modes, so private sector decisions can pick the most efficient combination of modes.
  • Enhanced complete rail network: Planners should advocate strongly for policies, regulation and funding which reduce the conflicts between freight and passenger rail.
  • New technologies and vehicles: Promising technologies and vehicle innovation can replace traditional cartage and delivery within and through congested areas. Planners should recognize that the status quo is not a pathway to the future.
  • Improved international cooperation at border crossings: Both freight and passenger movement could be expedited while security and law enforcement concerns are addressed by better coordination by international partners who share borders.

Safety, Security and Resiliency

The freight system is highly susceptible to natural disasters and human caused events. Disruptions to the freight systems can have devastating short-term consequences to the local, state and national economy. In the long-term, a work-around is almost always available, but the down time can ripple throughout the economy as a whole. Similarly, breakdowns in the freight system can have potentially devastating impacts on population centers and economic resources. Thus, improving the safety, security, and resilience of the freight system through investments that seek to advance the state of good repair of the freight system are crucial.

APA and its Chapters and Divisions support the following Policy Outcomes:

  • Enhanced safety and mobility for both passenger and freight movement: Identification and implementation of strategies that will improve safety and reduce crash rates, fatalities and injuries on the Multimodal Freight Network including considering safety, security and resiliency factors into transportation infrastructure design and investment decisions should be pursued vigorously. Security across all transportation modes should be promoted through adoption of emergency preparedness protocols for managing natural and man-made threats to human resources, transportation capital assets, and information. Planners should advocate strongly for funding to separate passenger and freight rail operations as doing so improves the safety and security of both.
  • Sustainable freight network: Identify and protect key freight transportation corridors linking strategic freight gateways, generators, distribution centers, manufacturing and markets to the transportation network and develop a sustainable model for cross-border trade that addresses security while not diminishing efficient trade.
  • Increased focus on using the appropriate mode for the cargo carried: Planners should promote increased safety for the movement of hazardous materials and oversize/overweight loads on the Multimodal Freight Network, especially in major population centers, through clear route designation and signage, increased public education and accurate/timely communication with operators of the freight system. It is critical that potential conflicts between modes and safety be managed effectively. As a part of this focus, planners should advocate for separate dedicated rail facilities for passenger and freight rail; this separation will increase both safety and rail operational efficiencies.
  • State and regional lifeline routes: Planners should incorporate a secure lifeline network of streets, highways, and bridges to facilitate emergency services response and to support rapid economic recovery, including freight movement, after a disaster into local, regional and state resilience plans.
  • Designated freight routes for hazardous materials: The federal, state and local governments together with regional transportation planning organizations should develop a network of corridors and modes to which bulk shipments of hazardous materials shall be limited. The designated routes should avoid to the extent possible environmentally-sensitive areas, population centers, parks and recreation facilities and drinking water sources. Such corridor networks, once designated, should be protected from incompatible development such as recreational trails, housing development and public utilities subject to being negatively impacted were a hazardous materials incident to occur. Enhancing advanced notification to state, regional and local emergency managers of hazardous materials shipments should be pursued.
  • Improved education and training: Expand effective educational and/or training programs to improve safety along the freight network while also enabling consumers to more fully understand the freight network.
  • Heightened pipeline safety: Identify clearly the location and condition of all pipelines with the potential of transporting hazardous and explosive liquids and gases and establish rules requiring more frequent inspections and maintenance intervals as pipelines age while also improving community notification when hazardous and explosive liquids and gases are being conveyed.

Best Practices

Innovative technologies and practices are under development — and some are available now — to develop, operate, preserve, and enhance the efficiency of the freight system while mitigating its economic, environmental, community adverse impacts. These technologies and practices require documentation and dissemination as best practices.

APA and its Chapters and Divisions support the following Policy Outcomes:

  • Enhanced network performance: Identify and implement best practices for improving the performance of the national freight network and mitigating the impacts of freight movement on communities.
  • Partnerships: Foster continued partnership with public and private sector stakeholders to implement proven freight-based technology solutions.
  • Increased competitiveness: Technologically advanced freight transport and distribution should be widely distributed in ways that remove barriers to market entry and increase competition.
  • Improved demand share between freight travel modes: Freight system performance can be improved, even without significant new investment in corridors by the operational efficiencies of each mode and combination of modes. Enhancing intermodal connectivity will enable this and thus investments in intermodal facilities should be prioritized over corridor improvements in many regions.
  • Cost efficiency: Prioritize public and private investment in freight modes and practices that maximize cost efficiency at the lowest energy and environmental costs.
  • Context-sensitive approach to freight: Planners should work to ensure that the local context is considered when incorporating freight strategies into community plans and policies. This may be especially true as former industrial areas are redeveloped with residential and commercial uses in close proximity to still active freight rail lines.
  • Freight considered in comprehensive plans: Planners should ensure that full consideration of the interaction of freight with community economic, social and land use policies, and especially the potential points of conflict, are incorporated into local and regional planning efforts.
  • Embrace new technologies: As new technologies like enhanced real-time routing, autonomous trucks and autonomous local delivery vehicles are considered, use them to improve the relationship of freight to residential areas, labor markets and freight-dependent communities.


Coordination across the public sector agencies and between the public and private sectors is fundamental for a sustainable and efficient freight system. Planning and coordination between local, regional, state and federal governments in the development of freight plans, policies, and strategies is crucial to ensuring that public investments are both effective and efficient while reducing or eliminating the potential negative externalities. APA and its Chapters and Divisions support the establishment of partnerships that improve and advance a sustainable and efficient freight system.

APA and its Chapters and Divisions support the following Policy Outcomes:

  • Collaboration between public agencies: All governmental agencies that impact the freight system should coordinate programs to advance new technologies, fund proposed projects, and to streamline the implementation of activities. State agencies and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) have a paramount role in the development of a sustainable freight system. States through the development of freight plans can provide a comprehensive vision to govern the immediate and long-range freight planning activities and capital investments of their state. MPOs, by being made up from local government representatives are closer to local needs and have a singular advantage to better focus transportation investments and resources. MPOs should be given a stronger role in the National Highway Freight Program.
  • Enhanced strategies for incentivizing private investment: The federal and state governments should develop policies that encourage the private sector to invest in public projects as well as public investment in private projects that will benefit the freight system.
  • Increased participation of freight industry professionals in transportation planning: APA and its Chapters and Divisions support revisions to federal policy to require that the freight industry is represented at the outset in the transportation planning process and are included as members of regional transportation planning organizations. The full participation of freight industry professionals in the development of local, regional and state transportation plans will contribute to the development of short and long range goals that incorporate freight in a holistic transportation planning effort.
  • Creative solutions for freight related issues: Traditional approaches to the planning and funding of projects that enhance freight movement may not be sufficient for any number of reasons including the complex web of ownership, operations and maintenance of the infrastructure and rolling stock that comprises the Multimodal Freight Network.
  • Development of Freight Advisory Councils: The development of freight councils to help public sector agencies understand and identify freight issues in their jurisdictions and participate in development of state and metropolitan freight plans. Freight Advisory Councils should be composed by public, private, and community stakeholders and should be encouraged at both the state and MPO levels.


The importance of adequate and sustainable funding in the development and maintenance of an efficient and effective national freight transportation system cannot be overstated. The FAST Act's inclusion of a dedicated funding stream to strengthen the nation's freight mobility and distribution network and enhance its effectiveness as the best in the world is a significant step in recognizing the importance of continuing and stable investments.

APA and its Chapters and Divisions support the following Policy Outcomes:

  • Increased investments in the nation's rail and port infrastructure: Investments that diversify freight distribution methods, increase on-time performance and reduce costs for freight shipping should receive priority.
  • Increased involvement by states, regions and local governments: Planners should advocate for full distribution of authorized funds for freight infrastructure through the National Freight Program and Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program in the FAST Act.
  • Enhanced TIFIA Loan program: The amount of funding in the TIFIA loan program should be increased to help complete state, regional and local freight-related projects.
  • Expanded TIGER grant program: Planners should advocate for and Congress must act to increase the funding levels to provide grants, including ensuring eligibility for planning grants that support freight and economic development.
  • Increased Dedicated Freight Funding Programs: Planners should continue advocating for and Congress must act to expand both the formula and discretionary (FASTLANE) grant programs established in the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.
  • Sustainable dedicated transportation infrastructure funding: Develop a sustainable user fee system, including considering weight-based tolling systems, to balance the real impact on the roadway incurred by various vehicle types. Encourage federal, state and local levels to consider all potential funding alternatives.
  • Resilient networks: Target federal and state resources toward resilient transportation projects that strengthen the freight distribution system in preparation for climate change and its different impacts on infrastructure and operations.
  • 21st century interstate transportation network: Fund research and implementation activities necessary to design and construct the premier transportation network in the world that meets the growing and dynamic demands of the 21st century. This includes developing or redeveloping infrastructure to accommodate all existing modes as well as planning for future modes.


The ongoing collection, maintenance, and analysis of freight data is vital to achieving a balance between freight facilities and operations and community goals. While there are significant inherent challenges associated with freight data, APA and its Chapters and Divisions understand that freight data is an essential component of truly comprehensive multimodal transportation planning. To assure the incorporation of freight considerations into planning, the development of robust freight data sets and analytic tools is an absolute necessity.

APA and its Chapters and Divisions support the following Policy Outcomes:

  • High quality data for state and local decision making: The BTS Freight Analysis Framework requires enhanced funding from Congress. In addition, Congress should establish clear requirements for private freight haulers to provide current and accurate data determined to be necessary for planning purposes.
  • Freight performance measures: Assist state DOTs, MPOs, and city DOTs with the identification of measures that can help guide project prioritization. Development of local applications of the FHWA and BTS Freight Analysis Framework should be a part of this effort.
  • National freight data architecture: Promote the use of new data sources to address urban and metropolitan freight challenges (e.g., smart cities initiatives, crowd-sourcing, sensors, "big data" and cameras). The architecture should incorporate economic data (e.g., employment and trade) into planning studies to highlight the true value of freight activity while also establishing best practices for benchmarking urban freight deliveries (e.g., drawing from data such as truck permits, crashes, violations, and rollovers). Mapping and data collection efforts for key freight facilities such as loading zones, truck stops, truck routes, NHS connectors, rail lines, highway-railroad grade crossings, manufacturing sites, and marine terminals should be encouraged.
  • Freight data elements fully incorporated into all transportation and land use planning: Incorporate freight analyses into plans and initiatives such as complete streets, transit oriented development, and freight oriented development. In addition, freight data elements should be included in the formulation of relevant planning documents such as corridor studies and comprehensive plans.
  • Improved freight demand toolkits and models: Adopt state-of-the-art visual communication techniques to increase awareness of freight.
  • Partnerships: Foster data-sharing initiatives with the private sector, particularly shipper, carrier, and receiver groups. Using a supply chain perspective, identify freight flows and bottlenecks for key commodities. Data sharing should also include local, regional and state governments.
  • Increased understanding of the role of freight movement within the economy and transportation network: Funding of programs specifically targeting freight data initiatives (e.g., SHRP-2 Freight Demand Modeling and Data Improvement program) should be enhanced. Freight data training and coursework that helps develop the next generation of planners and freight analysts should be improved and offered more widely.

References and Resources

Related Policy Guides

This addendum to the Surface Transportation Policy Guide is related to other Policy Guides adopted by the American Planning Association in recent years, including:

The authors acknowledge the invaluable assistance provided by the staff of APA in the preparation of this Policy Guide.

See all APA Policy Guides

Technical Reviewers

APA Transportation Planning Division

Freight Policy Guide Task Force Authors

C. Whit Blanton, FAICP
Noel P. Comeaux, AICP
Theodore K. Dahlburg
Kara W. Drane, AICP
Daniel G. Haake, AICP, CMILT
George M. Homewood, FAICP, CFM
Jose I. Marquez-Chavez, AICP
Madhu Narayanasamy, AICP


1. www.transportation.gov/grow-america/fact-sheets/freight.

2. IndyMPO, Indianapolis Regional Freight Plan, 2016, p. 5-1.

3. FDOT, Florida Freight Mobility and Trade Plan, pp. A-3 to A-11.